Lucas: In Position – University of North Carolina Athletics

By Adam Lucas

Early Sunday evening, you had the very distinct feeling that Hubert Davis could get used to it.

Carolina’s first-year head coach had virtually the entire schedule at home for Sunday night’s NCAA Tournament Draft Viewing Party. He and his wife, Leslie, fed the entire team, coaches and most of their wives, along with many other support staff in the hour before the brackets were revealed.

Once the show started, a distinct sense of nervousness descended on the players. The laughs and jokes died down each time a region’s eight and nine seeds were revealed, proof that all participants were well aware of most of the showings. And after each of the first three regions, there was Hubert Daviscircling around the den, patting a player’s back here, sharing a quick word there.

“It didn’t really hit me until we got to Coach Davis’ house,” said Armand Bacot. “Seeing where all the teams were falling and having to wait to be in the final bracket that was announced made us all anxious.”

Some matchups have had players talking — perhaps none more than Auburn and Jacksonville State in the first round, which might seem unusual until you realize two former Tar Heels will be facing off in this game — but most of the time, it was quiet when the teams were revealed. .

Davis wanted to make sure his team knew it was a party night. “Guys got in position to play in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “It’s one of the many goals I had for the team at the start of the year, and I’m really proud of them. There have been ups and downs this season. They fought in adversity and have always picked themselves up. I’m happy to be their coach.”

By the time three-quarters of the full bracket had been revealed, the nerves in the room were beginning to turn to excitement. There was no longer any uncertainty – the Tar Heels knew they would be in that last announced region. During the commercial break, players and staff members attempted to replenish the remaining 16 teams on the roster and slot them into the most likely matchups. Their projections were very close.

Carolina’s announcement as the eighth seed was met with the loudest cheers in years. The Tar Heels haven’t had a “real” NCAA tournament since 2019, with the 2021 event canceled and the 2021 edition held amid the pandemic. This time the excitement was evident.

“Put yourself in a position to have a shot at achieving your dreams and goals is something to celebrate and something to have fun with,” Davis said. “I’m glad the guys all had a smile on their face. It’s not guaranteed, even in Carolina. What I saw on their faces was exactly what I wanted to see.”

When Davis addressed the team after the full bracket reveal, there was no discussion of the matchup with the nine-seeded Marquette. In many ways, he has an inexperienced team. The only player on the roster who has won an NCAA Tournament game at Carolina is leaky blackwho was on the 2019 team and played exactly three minutes in the last Tar Heel NCAA win, a win over Washington that season in the Round of 16.

“I put a picture of the New Orleans Superdome in all your lockers at the start of the season,” Davis told the team, referring to the venue for this year’s Final Four. “I wanted you to know clearly and definitively where we are going.”

That journey will begin Monday, when the Tar Heels have their first practice since the ACC tournament (Sunday was an NCAA-mandated day off). Late Sunday night, Davis was still smiling.

In many ways, it was his perfect day. His team was one of only 68 still competing for a national championship. Players were loose and comfortable in his home. All of her children were home for a few brief hours, a rare luxury when you have a college-age child. Life is pretty good for Hubert Davisand as hectic as the next few days were, he clearly understood the progress this group had made together.

He wanted them to enjoy it for a few more hours. Then the challenge begins.

“I want them to appreciate where we are and to celebrate having the chance to be part of this tournament,” he said. “Then it’s back to work in terms of preparation and training. They have to understand that’s it. If you don’t play well, you go home. There’s an urgency and a seriousness to this. subject that need to happen. Our program and the guys are in a great position to play their best, and at the end of the day, that’s all you want.”