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NEW ORLEANS — Sometimes, even in a place such as North Carolina, you nail the hire. Hubert Davis chases history on Monday night against Kansas, looking to be the first rookie coach to win a national championship.
Duke can only hope and pray that the passing of its baton from Coach K to Jon Scheyer will be as seamless as the passing of the baton from Roy Williams to Hubert Davis has been in Chapel Hill.
Davis remembers being haunted by losing 79-73 in the 1991 national semifinals to Kansas, then coached by his mentor Williams, at the Hoosier Dome.
“Prior to winning the national championship in 2017, from 1991 to 2017, I had watched that game at least once every year,” Davis said. “It’s the best team I ever played with. … We were as connected as this team is connected now. And that was a game that Coach [Dean] Smith got two technical fouls and got kicked out, and it was an emotional game and an emotional end to a season.
“I always wanted to cut down those nets as a player.
“And that was the toughest loss that I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.”
It was so tough for the old ex-Knick that he has told his players that he would cry whenever he watched it. “I told them, I played 12 years in the NBA and that was my finest as a basketball player, finest moment, just being part of the Final Four,” Davis said.
It is a big reason why his 20-year-old son, Elijah, a 6-foot-4 freshman shooting guard at Lynchburg, was seated at the end of the dais during the North Carolina press conference on Sunday.
“I look at and I tell the parents, ‘I’m not your son’s parent, but every decision that I make will be filtered through what is in the best interests for your son and what I think you would do for your son,’ ” Davis said. “And so the same way that I care for my three children is the same way that I care for the players. I just want things to work out for them. And so I wouldn’t say because of my oldest son it’s easier for me to relate to them. But I would say being a father helps me relate to the players because that’s the way I coach.”
Elijah smiled when his father began referencing Snapchats and Instagrams.
“One of the things throughout the summer that I made the guys do is they have a requirement to stop by my office at least three times a week,” Davis said. “And so when you stop by my office, you cannot talk about basketball. And then during the season, when it’s a little bit more difficult with classes and everything, I say you have to stop by the office at least once.
“And I always say you can’t play for me unless you know me. And I can’t coach you unless you know me.”
The son knows that he has been blessed with a national-champion father … suddenly 40 minutes from becoming a national-champion coach.
“He makes sure that it’s not just about basketball, it’s about life, he teaches them just the way he teaches me,” Elijah told The Post. “There’s not a lot of difference with how he acts with them he acts with me.”
There was a lunch they shared at Lynchburg when father was slumping and son was pining for playing time. They infused each other with belief.
“If you’re gonna fight,” father looked son in the eye and said, “I’m gonna fight.”
Jay Bilas worked alongside Davis at ESPN.
“Hubert Davis may be the nicest person I know, and he’s the best father I’ve ever seen,” Bilas told The Post. “He’s a perfect balance of cutthroat competitor and incredibly nice, thoughtful, empathetic person. He is an amazing person, and I’m not at all surprised knowing him that he is having this level of success this early.”
Don’t bother trying to define him as a coach.
“I don’t want to be defined at all,” Davis said. “I’m going to do this with my own personality, in my own shoes. And I feel very comfortable me being me.”
For North Carolina, Hubert Davis was the perfect guy at the perfect time.
“He’s the perfect guy at the perfect time,” Bilas said, “to replace anybody.”