Summer 2022

First-year North Carolina coach Hubert Davis anchored in prayer as he leads Tar Heels to Final Four

Hubert Davis turned away from the court, wiped his face and hugged his assistant coaches. The gravity of the moment had begun to sink in as the clock ticked down Sunday evening in Philadelphia and his players dribbled out the clock. In his first year as the head coach at North Carolina, Davis has guided his alma mater all the way to the Final Four.

The No. 8-seeded Tar Heels jumped out to a 34-13 lead over No. 15-seed Saint Peter’s and cruised to a 69-49 win, punching North Carolina’s ticket to the Final Four for a record 21st time and bringing an end to the Peacocks’ captivating Cinderella run. It marks UNC’s first appearance in the Final Four since 2017, when it won its sixth national championship.

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Davis has repeatedly deflected any praise and shined the spotlight on his players throughout his team’s time in Philadelphia. He said he would like nothing more than to see his players experience the type of team success he experienced in a Tar Heel uniform from 1988-1992, when he reached the 1991 Final Four. After grinding out a 73-66 win over No. 4-seed UCLA on Friday and overwhelming St. Peter’s, they’ve done just that.

“I just desperately wanted this for them,” an emotional Davis said on the court after the Elite Eight win, as his players celebrated around him. “I love these guys so much. They trusted me in my first year, they allowed me to coach them and allowed me to be in their life.

“I’m here because of them. It has nothing to do about coaching, it’s all them and I’m just — it’s tears of joy being able to be in their lives.”

Later in the celebratory postgame press conference, Davis was asked about the great North Carolina coaches he played and coached under —Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge and Roy Williams — and the positive impact they had on his life.

“One of the things that I do is pray all of the time that Jesus would put good people in my kids’ life, like Coach Smith, Coach Guthridge and Coach Williams,” Davis said. “People that genuinely care for you, that there’s no hidden agenda, they’re genuinely on your side.”

Now, with a head coach who insists on taking a backseat to his players, the Tar Heels will turn their sights to preparation for the Final Four in New Orleans. North Carolina will join three other blue bloods there: Kansas, Villanova and archrival Duke.

Kansas, which blew out Miami on Sunday, and Villanova are scheduled to square off in the first semifinal at 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday. Following that, North Carolina and Duke will play at 8:49 p.m. ET in what will be the most significant game in the history of their storied rivalry. The two teams have never met in the NCAA Tournament.

When asked before North Carolina’s game against Saint Peter’s about the possibility of playing Duke (who dispatched Arkansas to reach the Final Four) in New Orleans, Davis turned again to his faith. He paraphrased a Bible verse he had cited often in the lead-up to North Carolina’s 94-81 win at Duke earlier this month.

“One of the things that I’ve talked to the guys a lot [about] is I’ve given them this Bible verse, Proverbs 4:25,” he said. “It’s to ‘keep your eyes straight ahead and ignore all sideshow distractions.’ So what’s straight ahead is Saint Peter’s.”

Only one month ago, North Carolina was a bubble team fighting for its tournament life and Davis was being criticized, but he remained rooted in the firm foundation of faith in Christ that he’s proclaimed since becoming a believer in college.

“[Faith is] the most important thing to me,” he said at the press conference last April introducing him as the new head coach of the Tar Heels. “My faith and foundation is firmly in my relationship with Jesus. It just is.”

Prior to North Carolina’s second-round game, Davis said, “I look at this job as missionary work. … Every day I get a front-row seat to be able to help out these kids, and it puts me in a place of humbleness and thankfulness and appreciation to be a part of their lives.”

Davis will seek to continue to honor and glorify Christ next week as his team will take the court under the brightest lights in all of the sport.

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