When the final buzzer sounded on his team’s Final Four game Saturday night, it became evident that the weight of what Hubert Davis had accomplished was setting in.
Davis, the head coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels, is one of few coaches to ever lead their team to the national championship game in their first year on the job.
The Tar Heels weren’t even supposed to be here. On the brink of not even making the tournament, among criticism leveled at Davis, the team came together at the right time. The Tar Heels rattled off wins against higher-seeded teams such as Baylor, UCLA and – last Saturday – Duke, all as an eighth seed in their region.
Davis continued to encourage his players to stay locked-in during the rollercoaster ride that is March Madness, employing Proverbs 4:25 as their mantra. That verse in The Message translation says, “Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions.”
Davis, a believer in Christ since college, is not shy about how the Bible and his faith influence his position as a leader of young men.
He told Sports Spectrum prior to the team’s second-round matchup: “I look at this job as missionary work. … Every day I get a front-row seat to be able to help out these kids, and it puts me in a place of humbleness and thankfulness and appreciation to be a part of their lives.”
Though coaching at his alma mater North Carolina has immense personal meaning, Davis has continued to make it all about the players. He expressed his strong desire to see his team enjoy the same kind of success he had as a Tar Heel from 1988-1992.
“I love these guys so much,” he said. “They trusted me in my first year. They allowed me to coach them and allowed me to be in their life. I’m here because of them. It has nothing to do about coaching. It’s all them, and I’m just — it’s tears of joy being able to be in their lives.”
The first-year coach is following in the footsteps of the legendary coaches before him, Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge and Roy Williams, hoping to have the same kind of impact they did on his life. Smith and Guthridge made the freshman Davis go to church, a concept he had resisted for years.
“My mother was a Christian and she begged me to go to church growing up, and I didn’t want to go,” Davis said in his introductory press conference last year, adding, “I wasn’t interested in it. My mom used to always say that Jesus had a plan for me — plans for a hope and a future, plans not to harm you, plans to prosper you. Jeremiah 29:11. At the time, growing up, I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t listen to it.”
He felt immense anger toward God when his mother passed before his junior year of high school, a feeling that persisted for four years. Before his junior year of college, he finally opened up to the gospel.
“I started to understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for me and how much he loves me,” Davis said at that initial press conference. “Two days before my junior year of college, I became a Christian.”
Now Davis sees coaching the sport he loves as “missionary work.” Through all the rigors of a college basketball season, his faith has afforded him perspective on the bigger picture.
“[Faith is] the most important thing to me. My faith and foundation is firmly in my relationship with Jesus. It just is.”