CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – It was a night of firsts at the Dean Smith Center Friday night. Dubbed Late Night ‘N HD for Hubert Davis, it was the first time fans were back in the building in large numbers in more than one a year.
It was the first chance fans had to see the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill men’s and women’s squads in action for the upcoming season.
It was the first time men’s head coach Hubert Davis brought his team through the tunnel as the head coach of the Tar Heels.
Despite this special moment though, he was still deflecting the spotlight and praise onto others.
“I told the team in the locker room after the scrimmage that tonight was about them. I was just really excited, because over the summer, every day I get to see what we have on this team,” Davis said. “It was an opportunity for everybody to come to see what I’ve been seeing over the last six and a half months… that we’ve got a chance.”
The night featured a light show and smoke machines to introduce each of the players. Each took their time coming through the portal, putting their own special stamp on his or her intro before tossing a little basketball to the screaming fans.
The coaches on the men’s team, including Davis, were already sitting courtside smiling and taking in the spectacle. The coaches were introduced, too, but each just stood up from the chair and gave a quick wave.
But, Davis was eventually coaxed out of his chair to say a few words.
His silence painted an obvious picture.
What he was doing, and what he was taking over, finally hit him. It isn’t the Roy Williams show in Chapel Hill anymore.
His speech would have to wait for the thousands in attendance, sensing his emotion, to sit down from their standing ovation and chants of “Hu-bert, Hu-bert, Hu-bert”.
He took the time to look around and drink it in.
When he finally composed himself, Davis began by thanking the crowd. He then told the story of going to a basketball game at UNC when he was five and how he knew then that Chapel Hill is where he wanted to be.
“Every day I have been trying to communicate to these players that being a part of this program automatically drops you to your knees,” Davis said. “You are filled with thankfulness, humbleness and appreciation at the opportunity to be a part of this program and university. If you allow yourself to be filled with thankfulness, appreciation and humbleness, you’re exactly where you need to be. You’re in the perfect spot, each one of you guys, to do something that you’d never hoped or dreamed of. All of your hopes and dreams, making a career out of this, winning championships and hanging another one of those banners.”
When he finished his piece, he tried to get out of the spotlight, but the crowd wasn’t done with him just yet.
UNC put together a video of former coaches, players and colleagues, such as Roy Williams, television journalist Rece Davis, retired NBA player Eric Montross, former NCAA coach Richard “Digger” Phelps, retired NBA player Pete Chilcutt, Chicago Bulls’ Coby White and former Tar Heel Luke Maye, and others, along wishing him well in his first year at UNC.
“It was emotional, because on that video, were a lot of people that mean so much to me,” Davis said. “I’ve often talked about being given an opportunity and a chance, and every one of those people in the video gave me an opportunity and a chance. Whether it was here in North Carolina, or in the NBA, or ESPN, or just in life in general.”
Among the numerous people in the video was former NBA head coach Don Nelson.
Davis played for Nelson when they were with the Knicks and the Mavericks. He was surprised and touched when his former skipper popped up on the big screen to say good luck.
“I hadn’t seen Coach Nelson in 18 years. He is one of my favorite coaches and he’s the reason that I became a basketball player in the NBA,” Davis said. “He challenged me to become better.”
Then, when the UNC men hit the floor, everyone got the chance to see exactly what he was talking about with this team having a chance.
Sophomore guard Caleb Love and junior forward Armando Bacot each put up 18 points to lead the Blue team to a 60-45 win over the White team.
The entire squad looked farther ahead than it was at this time last year.
“Defensively, our bigs can guard guards, and out on the perimeter, our guards can guard bigs,” Davis said. “We wanted to have spacing, balance and movement, and allow our guys to have space to be able to use all their gifts and talents.”
He continued, “Now we’ve got bigs that can shoot the ball and it automatically gives our space so that RJ (Davis) and Caleb (Love) and other guys can attack the basket.”
Davis’ first test is an exhibition against Elizabeth City State on Nov. 5.