Rebuilding the legacy: UNC basketball’s new journey under Hubert Davis

By Gene Galin

Charlotte, NC – During the 2023 ACC Basketball Tipoff event Carolina basketball coach Hubert Davis and student-athletes Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis spoke to the media.

UNC basketball coach Hubert Davis. (photo by Nell Redmond

The University of North Carolina has seen its share of basketball glory. With a rich history that includes legendary coaches like Dean Smith and Roy Williams, there’s a tradition that Tar Heels know well. Head Coach Hubert Davis, himself a UNC alum, faces the daunting task of upholding that tradition while putting his unique stamp on the program. Questions linger – How will they preserve the Tar Heel tradition while infusing fresh energy? What is the legacy of returning veterans like Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis?

Preserving the Tar Heel Legacy

Coach Davis, ever mindful of the legacy of past coaches, emphasizes the principles that have guided the program for years – on-court excellence, off-court character, and classroom success. The Tar Heels under his leadership are still the custodians of that legacy, as embodied by players like Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis.

Lessons from Legends

One aspect of Coach Davis’s approach is his unwavering respect for the path laid out by coaching greats like Dean Smith and Roy Williams. The Tar Heel tradition is revered and not lost in his transition to head coach. This philosophy is about walking in the same shoes, on the same paths, but with a different and unique personality.

Armando Bacot: The Fifth-Year Leader

Armando Bacot, a returning star, is not new to the Tar Heel program. His presence as a returning player of such stature is a blessing for Coach Davis. Known for his character both on and off the court, Bacot’s journey from a high school prospect to an accomplished player is the stuff of a coach’s dreams. He’s back for his fifth year, adding a unique perspective and leadership to the Tar Heel roster.

Returning with a Legacy

Bacot’s decision to return for his fifth year provides a unique opportunity for Coach Davis. The lessons Bacot brings to the team from his rich experiences are invaluable. The wealth of character and experience that Armando embodies is a beacon for the Tar Heels.

R.J. Davis: Stepping into Leadership

R.J. Davis is another returning star that provides essential leadership to the team. As he transitions into a leadership role, Davis intends to step out of his comfort zone by leading both by example and vocally. He recognizes the value of his four years with the Tar Heels, and the significance of this experience in guiding the new faces on the team.

Setting Goals and Upholding the Legacy

The Tar Heels have set their sights on winning a national championship. Coach Davis emphasizes the importance of discipline, holding each other accountable, and paying attention to detail. As the Tar Heels pursue their dreams, the foundation remains the commitment to the Tar Heel tradition, upholding the highest standards of play, academics, and character.

Rejuvenation through New Faces

The Tar Heels’ roster has undergone significant changes with seven players departing and five new talents joining. This rejuvenation presents a unique challenge. How do you maintain the Tar Heel culture with so many new faces? According to Bacot, it has been refreshing to have a diverse group of players. New perspectives and a shared hunger for success create an environment of competition, camaraderie, and chemistry.

Uniting Through Competition

R.J. Davis points out that this year’s team shares a common trait – a competitive spirit. A group of players, each with their leadership approach, forms the fabric of the Tar Heels. Cormac Ryan, Harrison, and the returning veterans like Bacot and Davis contribute to this team with their leadership styles, building a dynamic that drives the Tar Heels forward.

Beyond the Three-Point Line

Last season, the Tar Heels faced challenges in three-point shooting. This year, they have a different outlook with numerous proficient shooters. The diverse group of players brings an ability to knock down threes. Shooting from beyond the arc is not only about scoring but also about alleviating the pressure on star players like Bacot. With several shooters in the mix, the Tar Heels are poised for a fresh three-point identity.

A Year of Transition and Potential Farewell

As Armando Bacot approaches his potential farewell year with the Tar Heels, he reflects on the journey he and R.J. Davis have shared. Their relationship has grown both on and off the court. With Davis entering his senior year, and Bacot the fifth-year, they believe it could be their best season yet. A final opportunity to write a memorable chapter in their Tar Heel legacy.

The University of North Carolina Tar Heels are transitioning into a new era under coach Hubert Davis. The delicate balance of preserving tradition while embracing change is well underway. The returning stars, Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis, bring their experience and leadership to a team filled with fresh faces.

As they set their goals and aim for a national championship, the Tar Heels face a season of transition, adaptation, and competition. The legacy of the Tar Heels, built by legends like Dean Smith and Roy Williams, lives on under the guidance of Coach Davis and a new generation of players.

UNC Tar Heels Basketball Press Conference transcript

THE MODERATOR: North Carolina has that joined us in the room. Who would like the first question for our coach.

Q. You mentioned the importance of just maintaining the tradition and style of UNC basketball. How have you managed to preserve that tradition while adding your own touch to the program?

HUBERT DAVIS: Well, I mean, one of the things that I talk to the players all the time is the privilege of being a Carolina basketball player, you got to be the best that you can be in three areas: on the court, off the court and in the classroom. There’s no better example of that than these two individuals here in Armando and R.J.

During my press conference, one of the things I said three years ago was that the foundation of this place, Coach Smith, Coach Guthridge, Coach Doherty, Coach Williams, those are things that not only have I experienced but I believe in.

It’s also important to walk the same road and same paths, but in my own shoes with my personality.

Been able to do that and feel very comfortable in that role.

Q. We joked over the summer, this is Armando’s last year. This is definitely his last year.

HUBERT DAVIS: We did? You don’t want to stay another year?

ARMANDO BACOT: Last time y’all are going to see me (laughter).

Q. Since he made the decision to come back, is there anything else you learned about him?

HUBERT DAVIS: No, I’ve known Armando since he was 15 years old. A lot of people don’t know that I was recruiting right outside of Milwaukee. I was supposed to be headed to New York to recruit. The person that we were recruiting ended up not playing, so I called Coach Williams and said, Look, doesn’t make sense to go to New York. I heard about a tournament in Richmond, Virginia. Is there a possibility I could just stop by there?

Coach Williams said, Yeah, sure.

I stopped back at home. Grew up outside of the Washington, D.C. area. Flew from Milwaukee, flew to Washington, D.C. Got there at 9:00 in the morning. Walked into the gym. It was 6’10”, 6’9″, 6’9″ front line. Perfect. I got here for the 17-and-under AAU game. The guy told me no, this isn’t 17 and under, this is 15 and under. It was Armando, Isaiah Todd. I was like, 15 and under?

I’ve known Armando a long time. It’s a blessing and an honor to think not only have I been one of his coaches as a head coach and assistant coach, but been that for five years.

For somebody that is as accomplished as Armando and the character that he brings off the court, that is a coach’s dream. So to have him back for the fifth-year is really a blessing and an honor.

Q. Looking at these last two seasons as the head coach of this program, your lessons learned to this point?

HUBERT DAVIS: One of the things that I talk to the guys at great length about is turning down the noise from the phone, to family to friends and the college fans. That noise comes from two different directions. The criticism direction and also the direction of praise and prosperity.

One of the things that I always say is I’m teaching life through basketball. I think one of the things that the guys, especially RJ and Armando, the guys that are returning, have understood that probably the hardest noise to manage and maintain is the one from the praise and prosperity.

Coming off of a year where you’re a minute and 25 seconds away from winning a national championship, being able not to lose sight of the discipline and details that put yourself in a position just to be successful, whether it’s preparation and practice and play, that’s something that you have to hold onto. That’s the most important part.

I really believe that’s one of the many lessons that returning players like RJ and Armando have learned from last year to this year.

Q. I want to talk about the guy from Louisville, Jae’Lyn Withers, what type of impact you expect him to have for your team this season.

HUBERT DAVIS: Yeah, one of the things that I call him J-Wit. We have Jalen Washington and Jae’Lyn Withers, both of them are J.W. I say J-Wash, J-Wit.

So J-Wit, he brings something to the table that we haven’t had a long time at that position, size, versatility and athleticism on both ends of the floor. I personally think he can be an elite defender. Guard one through five. His length, his athleticism, rebounding, running the floor.

On the offensive end, his ability to attack the basket, just be great at cutting and slashing, using that athleticism to be able to get to the free-throw line. Offensive rebound is going to be huge for us.

That’s an area that he’s improving on every day. We need him. He’s a big piece of this puzzle for this team this year.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you. Armando, we’ll take questions for you.

Q. What changes have you made to your game to elevate this team to the next level, get prepared for the next level?

ARMANDO BACOT: Yeah, I mean, I think the big thing for me this year is going out there and playing hard every possession. I think if I do that, we’ll be in a good position to win a lot of ballgames.

Also just trying to lead more, also leading by example, too.

Q. You jokingly said this is the last year. As you reflect on the memories up to this point at North Carolina, what have been some of your favorite moments?

ARMANDO BACOT: I mean, definitely just the big wins. I think that’s why everyone comes to Carolina, is just being able to experience the great wins with the teammates, traveling to different places. Those all have been great for me since I’ve been here.

Q. Seven players out, five players in from last year. Talk about people want to come. How do you create the culture, maintain the culture, with so many new people?

ARMANDO BACOT: It’s been refreshing and great to have a lot of new faces. We get a lot of different perspectives them coming from different places. All those guys are hungry.

How last year went, having a fresh start with a bunch of know faces, it’s been exciting and fun. We all love each other. We like to compete, so it’s been great.

Q. Nine teammates of yours from last year are no longer your teammates. It’s early, but what have you seen in terms of the personalities around you that are different, the basketball skills around you, as you think of this new season?

ARMANDO BACOT: Yeah, I mean, I think the main thing this year, we got a lot of guys that like to compete. I think that’s half of the battle right there, having people that want to go out there and fight. It really boosts up the level of everybody.

I think adding Harrison and Cormac has been huge for the team’s morale because they bring it every day. We in practice talking junk, just competing, bringing the attitude in practice. All it does is elevates us. It will carry over into games, too.

Q. Do you feel like the old man?

ARMANDO BACOT: Yeah, no, I do (smiling). This is my third time doing this. Has to be somewhat of a record, so…

But I’m glad to be able to just still — I’m not even the oldest player on the team. I’m not that old, I guess.

But, I mean, it’s great just being able to still be able to play at this university, take advantage of everything that this school has done for me because I’ve gotten so much out of being at the University of North Carolina. I’m glad to get one more year and I’m going to make this year my best.

THE MODERATOR: Armando, you can switch places with R.J. we’ll take questions for R.J.

Q. Last year Coach Hubert mentioned that he had you all write goals on the season. What are the goals going into this season ahead?

RJ DAVIS: I mean, I think the first one is always to win a national championship. In terms of goals as a team, it’s just to hold each other accountable. I think that’s the makeup thing. A group of guys, a new group, so obviously building that chemistry was a needed piece throughout this off-season, pre-season.

Just to kind of go into each game with the mentality we’re going to give every team our best shot. Holding each other accountable, doing the little thing. I think that’s what will make our goals become able to accomplish, all of ’em.

Q. Looking at the fact that this roster has changed so much, with you and Armando coming back, what can you say about your leadership style as well as if it’s a good thing to see that this team has so much newness?

RJ DAVIS: I mean, it’s great for me and ‘Mando to be veterans of this group. For me, I’ve always been a leader by example. Kind of stepping out of my comfort zone by leading more vocally, stepping into the leadership role of just knowing the ins-and-outs. I’ve been here four years; going into my senior year now.

Leading the guys, trying to show them the way North Carolina run things. What’s the standard for us.

For me, just to experience the goods and the bads, with a lot of experience I think I can lead this group, along with ‘Mando. I think what also makes us such a dynamic team, is we also have Cormac who has been to school for quite a while, Harrison.

Everyone has their own leadership standpoint and I think that’s what makes us such a good team so far.

Q. What do you think the identity of this UNC basketball team will be?

RJ DAVIS: I think our identity is going to be grit, playing with that competitive edge. We have a lot of guys that want it, play with a chip on their shoulder. They all came to Carolina for a reason. I think they’re all excited to put that jersey on, run out that tunnel. For them to just kind of compete for each other and this university, I think that’s going to be our identity right there.

Q. Talk about identity. Last year the team did not shoot very well from beyond the three-point line. How do you work on that, create a new identity that proves that North Carolina can shoot from beyond the arc?

RJ DAVIS: We have a lot of shooters this year, from myself, Cormac Ryan, Paxson, Harrison. For us to be able to be confident, knock it down from three, kind of takes off the pressure from ‘Mando from being double-teamed, triple-teamed each game.

We have a lot of versatility throughout the whole line where guys are able to make plays, not myself and ‘Mando, for everyone. We have the confidence to knock it down from three.

Q. Obviously this is your last year playing alongside ‘Mando. What are the emotions with that?

RJ DAVIS: I mean, it’s definitely sad. Been with ‘Mando since my freshman year. Just to see how he’s grown as a player and as a person, just to not knowing much of him my freshman year, building a connection with him.

I think this is going to be our best year just in terms of our connection being there, me being a senior, him being an old head. I just think that I’m super proud of him, super proud of the relationship we built on and off the court.