The North Carolina coach has experienced the highs and lows of being a missionary in his own backyard, this year while leading the Tar Heels into a new era following the retirement of Roy Williams.
The path to the NCAA championship game featured a lot of bumps in the road, including a 98-69 loss to Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic last December. Tennessee, the Southeastern Conference Tournament champion, also handed North Carolina an 89-72 setback on Nov. 21.
“It’s a place of thankfulness, humbleness, humility, to be able to be in this position, to be their head coach,” Davis said following North Carolina’s 81-77 win over Duke in the national semifinals Saturday night (April 2). “I’ve often said that my job, it’s like I’m on a mission field. Like, this is service. I’m trying to help these kids. And I’m just trying to give back everything that coach (Dean) Smith and Coach (Bill) Guthridge gave to me.”
That opportunity, first a scholarship to play for the Tar Heels, translated into an NBA career followed by an invite to join Williams’ staff at his alma mater several years later. One thing led to another. When Williams retired last year, it was Davis he wanted to coach North Carolina because he wanted to keep the job within the “family.”
“When you look back, everything significant in my life has happened because they’ve given me this opportunity and a chance to be a part of this program,” he said. “My wife and I fell in love there. We got married there. After I played in the NBA, we moved back, raised our three kids there. Now I’m the head coach there. It’s just a pretty cool deal.”
His biggest victories this season occurred against his team’s biggest rival, Duke. The Tar Heels easily defeated the Blue Devils 94-81 in Mike Krzyzewski’s last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium four weeks ago. North Carolina handed Krzyzewski another loss in his final game as Duke’s coach on Saturday night on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“That’s something that I’ve never thought about and would never think about,” he admitted. “All I’m thinking about are these kids, these players. And I told them how happy I am that I get a front-row seat for them to go through this season and these experiences. It’s a blessing for me. It’s a privilege. It’s an honor.
“Those are the things that I’m thinking about. Coach K is unbelievable. And that team is the best team so far that we have played. And we just happened to make some more plays tonight.”
The two wins over Duke Davis said are already a distant memory as his team prepares to take on Kansas in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
“I think dwelling on the two wins against Duke doesn’t help us against Kansas,” he said. “We put that in a box to think about over the summer. But right now, is a day, is a time of celebration and then focus on preparing ourselves to play for a national championship against Kansas.”
No matter the outcome in the finale, he considers his job more than just teaching basketball. He embraces the mentoring, tutoring and public relations aspect of his position, coaching one of the traditional powerhouses of college basketball.
“Whether it’s on the court, in the classroom, in the community, that’s my job,” he said. “If I’m only coaching basketball, then I’m not doing my job. And so I know that Jesus allowed me to be in this position and He’s put me in this position to be a light. And that’s what I want to do.”