When Jeff Van Gundy first met Hubert Davis in 1992 — when Davis was a Knicks rookie and Van Gundy was an assistant coach — he never thought his new player had any interest in coaching. Davis didn’t either, or at least he hadn’t spent much time thinking about that possibility.
Davis was just trying to carve out an NBA career, an approach he called a “focus on where you are.” He lived on 96th Street between 3rd Avenue and Lexington. He commuted to the Westchester County Center for the summer league, then to SUNY Purchase College for the team’s practice facility. And he impressed Van Gundy with an “elite skill of shooting,” a strong left-hand finish and an ability to create off the dribble that was better than some thought.
Davis went on to average 8.2 points and 1.5 rebounds per game across a 12-year career, but his present-centric approach pivoted when he retired after the 2003-04 season. He eventually started working as a college basketball analyst for ESPN, and returned to North Carolina as an assistant coach under Roy Williams in 2012 — positioning himself to earn the Tar Heels’ head coaching job when Williams retired in April. Now he’s ready to implement his own twist into the legendary program.
“The foundation of this program will never change while I’m here,” Davis told The Post in a phone interview. “It’s been here, it’s been established, it’s been tried and tested and proven successful. It’s a program that I believe in, that I’ve been a part of. … I’m just gonna walk it in my own shoes, with my own personality.”
Part of that personal twist, he said, might come through the team’s dependence on versatile forwards. Van Gundy called it a way to “tinker and change” with the long-standing characteristics of UNC’s program, such as abandoning the double-big lineup or playing more of those stretch forwards. Davis wants those forwards to make plays on the perimeter, to handle the ball, to make the same crisp passes like a guard might. The Tar Heels return Armando Bacot, a third-team All-ACC player who made the preseason first-team heading into his junior year, and imported some talent via the transfer portal.
The difference now, Davis said, is that he’s the one in charge of making and implementing those changes, not just suggesting like he would as an assistant. It’s actually a “pretty cool deal,” Davis said, even with the challenge that comes with the program’s reputation.
“When you’re in a place like Carolina, there’s no patience,” Van Gundy told The Post. “There’s no rebuild. … I think because he played there, because he coached as an assistant, he’s fully aware of what they’re capable of and where they probably fall short. And his job is to maximize their strengths and cover up their non-strengths as much as he can.”