3.9k Share this
Hubert Davis set the expectations at the ceiling.
Before the start of the season, he printed out a photo of the Superdome in New Orleans and placed it in the locker of each player. He told their parents to make reservations for the Final Four.
The first-year coach was sending a message: He thought North Carolina was as good as anyone in the country. He saw a championship team in this group.
“Just for him to have that confidence in us and believe in us early in the year it’s actually crazy,” sophomore guard R.J. Davis said on Tuesday. “It’s something that I’ll definitely remember forever.
“He saw the potential in the team, he saw the grit, he saw the talent we had. It was all about putting it together.”
It didn’t happen overnight, of course. North Carolina was on the bubble into February before it took off, entering Saturday’s Final Four showdown against bitter rival Duke having won 16 of its last 19 games. Through the ups and downs, Hubert Davis remained upbeat.
“Why wouldn’t I stay positive?” the former Knicks guard said. “I love these kids. What is there to be negative about?”
Remy Martin’s emergence in the NCAA Tournament after a dismal regular season that included a knee injury has been the story of March for Kansas. The high-scoring Arizona State transfer went from averaging 6.2 points per game to 16.7, keying narrow victories over No. 9 Creighton in the second round and fourth-seeded Providence in the Sweet 16.
“I could never have imagined that a guy that could labor as much as he had all year long could have the three weeks that he’s had so far,” Bill Self said. “I thought going into the season, [forward] David McCormack would be the key player for us. Now, obviously, it’s David and Remy, because when they play at a high level, they totally change the team for us.”
Martin was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest region, a performance that was similar to what Malik Newman did for Kansas in the run to the 2018 Final Four. That team’s run was ironically cut short by Saturday’s opponent, Villanova, the eventual national champion that season.
“What he’s done for us, from a personality and energy standpoint, I think carries equal value [to what Newman did in 2018],” Self said. “And he’s also played very well on top of that.”
Both coaches, Davis and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, played down the significance of this being the first Duke-North Carolina meeting in the rivalry’s storied history in the NCAA Tournament.
“You can’t go into the Final Four thinking rivalry, payback, any of those things,” Coach K said. “I haven’t looked at it as us against Carolina. I’ve looked at it as we’re playing in the Final Four, so the history of that I have not paid any attention to.”