New Orleans, LA – North Carolina’s basketball coach Hubert Davis met with the media Thursday afternoon at the Superdome in advance of their game versus Duke on Saturday in the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament game.
The #8 seeded UNC Tar Heels versus the #2 seeded Duke Blue Devils game is scheduled to tip off at approximately 8:49 PM EST on Saturday. The Tar Heels are 28-9 and have won ten of their last 11 games, while Duke is 32-6 and has won seven of their last nine contests.
Here is the press conference video and transcript:
THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined by the head coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels Hubert Davis. Coach Davis is ready for your questions.
Q. Obviously, Coach K is the wily vet when it comes to Final Fours. This being your first time, I wanted to know, A, how you’re preparing for your first Final Four as a head coach, and have you gotten any advice coming into this?
HUBERT DAVIS: Well, in terms of preparation, it’s the same way that we have prepared all year. There’s no difference. The way that we’re preparing for Saturday is the way that we prepared for Brown earlier in the year and against Georgia Tech in our first ACC regular season game.
One of the things that I preach to the team all the time is to focus on what is real and what allows us to be the best that we can be, and what is real and what allows us to be the best that we can be is focusing on our preparation for Saturday, our practice, and our play. And those are the only things we’re talking about. Those are the only things that we’re looking at. And that’s going to put us in a position to play our best on Saturday night.
Q. You as a former player who’s been to the Final Four, who played at North Carolina, I’m curious how valuable that has been for you when you were trying to work — get a message across to players both during the regular season and maybe in a moment like this that you’ve been in their shoes, you understand the challenges they face?
HUBERT DAVIS: Well, the first day of practice I had put a picture of the Superdome in their locker. I didn’t want them to dwell on that, but I wanted them to see where we’re going and what we’re fighting for and why we’re practicing so hard, why we’re preparing, and what is going to be required of us to have a chance to be there.
That’s all that we have done all season. That’s all we’re doing right now. I’ve said a number of times that you’re going to have to turn down and turn off the noise from the phone, the family, the friends, and the fans. I feel like our guys have really done a really good job of that, and they’re in a great spot and a great position to be at their best on Saturday night.
Q. Coach Davis, 40 years ago North Carolina won the first Final Four hosted in New Orleans with Michael Jordan and James Worthy and then won again here in 1993. How special is it to be back in New Orleans again? And are you using previous Final Fours here to energize your team?
HUBERT DAVIS: Well, I have told the team that we’ve won, this program has won two championships here in this building, and there’s significance in that.
I remember the ’82 championship game, and me only being able to see the second half because I had a boy scout meeting and I had missed the first half. I remember in ’93 it was a group of guys that I had played with. I was a rookie in the NBA, and we were playing the Atlanta Hawks, and I was on the road with my New York Knicks team watching the Carolina team play Michigan. I remember feeling two powerful emotions, joy and happiness because they won, but also sadness because I wanted to be there.
I had always wanted to cut down the nets and be a national champion at North Carolina, and I didn’t have that opportunity. It’s unbelievable that I had an opportunity as an assistant coach in 2017, and that’s something that I want for our players this year.
Q. We asked this of your team, but there’s kind of been a narrative that you guys are the Cinderella of the Final Four. Do you subscribe to that? Do you think that you all are a Cinderella team?
HUBERT DAVIS: I don’t know what Cinderella team means, so, no, I don’t prescribe to that. North Carolina’s been to more Final Fours than any program ever.
I know that the togetherness of this team and the health of this team has been at an all time high the last two months, and I know that we’re playing extremely well and we’re deserving of being here, and I know that I’m happy for our players for having the experience of being here.
Q. Your model all season has not necessarily been on the offensive end, but making your plays on defense. As long as your players play defense, you’re going to end up getting the win at the end of the day. What’s been your defensive mindset heading to the Final Four?
HUBERT DAVIS: Well, we’ve identified what allows us to have success, and I’ve said this a number of times. What puts us in a position to be successful out there on the floor is getting after it on the defensive end, rebounding the basketball, and also limiting our turnovers. That’s an area, and all three of them — well, rebounding, we’ve been great in all year, but I feel like defensively, especially the last ten games, I think we’ve held teams to under 41 percent from the field.
We’re doing a much better job of taking care of the basketball. I think R.J. and Caleb have been fantastic at making good decisions with the ball, and that is the key for us to have success on Saturday.
Offensively it’s never been a problem. We can score inside-out, many different ways, but defending, rebounding, and taking care of the basketball is something that’s very important to us.
Q. You were an assistant on that 2017 team that went to the National Championship. How have you used that experience, now that you’re the head coach? Is there anything that you can draw from that experience and take now that you’re the man in charge?
HUBERT DAVIS: The only thing that I can use from 2017 for this year’s team is to share with them what it means like to be the last team standing, to be up on that podium, to cutting down those nets and having those tears of joy and those hugs of celebrating the shared experiences over a long seas on end up being a National Championship team.
And explaining that desperately that’s what I want for them. It’s interesting this morning at breakfast Joel Berry stopped by. He was the MVP of that Final Four. He was a huge piece of us getting to The Finals in 2016. Just him being around our players at breakfast this morning, not necessarily talking to them about the 2017 championship, but just being there, that’s inspiration for our players to be the best that they can be this weekend.
Q. Hubert, Armando Bacot said that this group has always believed in itself but that it didn’t always show it at times this season. What is it that’s allowed this group to show it on the biggest stage?
HUBERT DAVIS: One of the things is this is — this has been a lot of newness. It’s a new head coach, new coaching staff, three transfers, two freshmen, tweaks, pivots, alters in terms of how we play on both ends of the floor. It takes time.
So the relationships that we’ve had and the building of our relationship on and off the court has allowed us to be in a place where we are together, where we are healthy as a team.
So it’s our ability to persevere, our ability at resiliency, our toughness to get back up. There were some humbling losses against Tennessee and Wake Forest and Miami and Duke at home, and this has been a group that has always bounced back. I think those shared experiences have put us in a place where we understand what we need to do in order to be successful, and there’s a trust and a confidence in each one of us that allows us to be as connected as we are right now.
Q. Caleb last week in Philly talked about when he’s kind of demonstrative on the court, when he’s yelling and flexing, and gesturing that his game is coming out. R.J. said that he loves seeing when Caleb does that because it means his game is on. As his coach, is this something that you see more of during the course of the year, and does that mean that he’s getting more comfortable and getting more confident in the process? So the more flexing you see, the more confident and comfortable Caleb is?
HUBERT DAVIS: I don’t necessarily on the sideline go, oh, wow, Caleb is flexing, we’re in a good spot right now (laughter). I know, I know.
I love emotions, and that’s one of the things that, I guess to your point, I felt like was missing at the beginning of the year. There was no emotion. And I’ve said that emotions not only are good, they’re necessary because emotions are good and necessary, that means you care.
That’s something, not just in Caleb, but I didn’t see at the beginning of the year. I’m seeing that now. I’m seeing that in Caleb. I’m seeing that in Brady. I’m seeing that in Armando. I’m seeing that in R.J. I’m seeing that with the guys coming off the bench. I’m seeing that in practice. I’m seeing that in shootarounds. I’m seeing that back at the hotel.
I felt like at the beginning of the year the thing that I had to coach the most was effort and toughness. I haven’t had to do that the last two months at all. I got to coach basketball. So I love the emotions that — maybe not the flexing. You should always act like you’ve been there before, but the way Caleb is playing, he can do whatever he wants to do.
Q. Coach, I think you’ve kind of just touched on it with a couple of these different answers, but the defense specifically, you referenced some humbling losses to Wake Forest and Kentucky and all them, and then you look at the defensive effort these last three, four games in the tournament and really in the lead up to the tournament, was that coaching? Was that buy-in? Was that effort? What’s led to the difference on the defensive side?
HUBERT DAVIS: I really think all the credit goes to them. I think one of the things, like a coach can say something to you — I would love to think, I have three kids, that everything that I say, they go, yes, Dad, and they’re going to do it. There’s a lot of times where they have to go through it, and then they go, okay, Mom, Dad, you were right.
I think that over the course of a year consistently conveying to them the importance of us being a good defensive team and how that plays a part in them, their performance individually, our success as a team, how it’s connected to how we play on the offensive end, they’ve seen it. They’ve experienced it. So now that they have seen it and they’ve experienced it and they’ve seen the success of it, maybe you can say now they believe it. Maybe not buy in, but now they believe it, if that makes sense.
Q. Hubert, what was it like for you early on in the season personally? You waited for this, Coach Williams tabs you as the guy, and Bubba did too, and you guys were struggling early. How difficult was it for you as somebody who has so much pride in this program?
HUBERT DAVIS: Well, it was never — for me, it was never difficult. It just wasn’t. Taking this job was — it was an act of service for me. It just was. It was more than wins and losses. It was being put in a position to give these kids everything I have gotten from Coach Williams and Coach Guthridge, and everything that the coaches have given the North Carolina players over the last 18 years.
As we were at times struggling, like that’s the natural course and progression of a new team. You were with us in Connecticut, and like you want your team to continue to grow and get better. There were a lot of teams in the beginning of the year that looked like they were going to win it, and it’s gone a different direction.
So did I expect that we’d be here in the Final Four? But I really did expect that we’d be a good team, and it allowed us to be in a position to play in the Final Four.
So it wasn’t — the wins and losses don’t define me. The experiences and the relationships with the players, that’s what defines — and the love for this institution and this program, so to me that’s never been difficult to put on to be a part of this program, and I knew that we would be a good team. I didn’t know what it would look like, but I knew that we would become a good team.
And I appreciate at the beginning of the year you had some tough comments about the toughness of our team, and I couldn’t be mad at you because I knew that you were right. People can’t say that about our group right now. They fought back. They stood their ground. They planted their feet, and they have competed.
I do, I appreciate your comments, because they were right and they were real, and I think our guys have understand how hard and how tough and resilient you have to be to have a chance every day to play at this level.
Q. I wanted to ask specifically about Brady because he entered the transfer portal and decided to come to UNC not that long after you were named head coach, and obviously been at Carolina for a long, long time before that. I’m curious what your recruiting pitch was to him and why you specifically wanted a big man like him on the roster.
HUBERT DAVIS: Well, it’s — a year ago I didn’t even know who Brady Manek was. I had never met him, never spoken to him, and I can’t imagine a time not only not coaching him but him not being in my life and his family not being in my family’s life.
To think that somebody who had lived his entire life in Oklahoma and he decided for the first time to move to North Carolina and play for a first year coach — I had spoken to him — I had called him on Monday. I didn’t actually get in touch with him until Tuesday, and he had committed to Carolina by Friday. And the only thing that we had done is been on one zoom with him and his parents and a couple phone calls.
He is the perfect example of a home run from a transfer (laughter). I don’t think you can get any better than him on and off the court. He’s just been unbelievable.
Q. Hubert, for those of us who aren’t from North Carolina, what has this last week been like, not just preparing to play in a Final Four, but against Duke? And just whether it’s the historical context or just what that rivalry is like for people in those communities that are very close together or whether it’s how well you know each other as players — I mean, the players know each other personally or knowing their games. Can you just, I guess, speak to all of that?
HUBERT DAVIS: The rivalry is real. You have two elite programs seven miles apart, same conference, consistently putting out great teams and great programs on and off the court and in the classroom and in the community.
So for the first time ever matching up in the Final Four is historic. It’s never happened before. The last time North Carolina and Duke were in the Final Four, I was a junior at Carolina in Indianapolis, and they ended up winning the National Championship, and we lost to Kansas.
The rivalry is real. My thought process and my communication to the players has been none of that. The reason being, that doesn’t help us Saturday. What helps us Saturday is our preparation, our practice, and how well we play. The historical factor of us for the first time meeting in the Final Four, the rivalry, Coach K’s last year, my first year, that’s insignificant to us.
The way that we’re approaching this game is the same way we would approach it if we’re playing Villanova or Kansas, and the same way that we approached playing UCLA and Saint Peter’s.
From your standpoint, there’s significance to it. For us and being the best that we can be on Saturday, I have talked to the team at great length to focus on what is real, and what is real is our preparation and our practice and how well we play.
THE MODERATOR: We’ve reached our time limit with Coach Davis. We want to thank Coach Davis for joining us here in the main interview room. Coach will be back here tomorrow before his team takes center stage.
HUBERT DAVIS: Tomorrow? Wow, I love it.