By JONATHAN MYER
Luke Davis is ready for tonight. Ready for his
first season as an official part of the fabled North Carolina basketball team.
But before Davis can really get on with his new career – in an unlikely
convergence of past, present and future – he’ll have to go up against his old
school, Gardner-Webb University.
Despite being located just a few hours from
each other in small North Carolina towns, the two schools couldn’t be more
different when it comes to basketball. While UNC sports a legendary history
that needs no introduction, Gardner-Webb is a small liberal arts school whose
closest brush with basketball greatness came in the ’60s when Artis Gilmore
played for the then junior-college squad and David Thompson played pick-up
games in the schools gym as a high-school student.
Davis entered Gardner-Webb as a freshman in
2010 after a successful high-school career that included first team all-state
honors and an appearance in the state-championship game during his senior year at
Ravenscroft Prep in Raleigh, N.C. He joined Gardner-Webb as part of new coach
Chris Holtmann’s inaugural recruiting class.
He took advantage of a wide-open competition
at point guard, seizing the starting role and making the Big South all-freshman
team while proving to be a steady contributor on offense who could run the
team, get the ball in the post and knock down open shots.
However, Davis wasn’t where he wanted to be.
After an up-and-down season in which the Bulldogs finished with a losing
conference record, Davis considered a change. He liked his coaches and
teammates, but Boiling Springs, N.C., wasn’t where he wanted to be. He had
grown up a die-hard North Carolina fan and decided to transfer there as a
walk-on at the end of his freshman season.
Fast-forward to 2012. UNC enters this season
as an enigma, a team with the talent to dominate and the inexperience to
sputter. Picked as the preseason favorite to win it all last season, the Heels
made it to the Elite Eight before a devastating injury to starting point guard,
ACC assists leader and purist basketball cult hero Kendall Marshall turned what
had been an offensive juggernaut into a bunch of former high school
All-Americans watching Harrison Barnes brick mid-range jumpers. Most of those
All-Americans, including Marshall, Barnes, John Henson and ACC player of the
year Tyler Zeller, are gone, with Zeller graduating and the rest leaving the
team for a shot at the NBA.
What remains is a crew of talented but unknown
freshmen, equally talented but unproven veterans, and incumbent go-to guy James
Michael McAdoo, who averaged all of six points last season. And there’s Davis.
He sat out last season due to transfer rules but practiced with the team and
spent some time going head to head with Marshall. Davis, who originally joined
the team as a walk-on, impressed enough during those practice sessions to earn
a scholarship, and possibly some playing time.
The prospect of seeing meaningful time on the
court was unlikely when Davis first decided to transfer. He had "no
expectations of playing time” when he first arrived and was content to serve in
a bench role. While he had some success at Gardner-Webb, he knew it would be a
"huge adjustment” in terms of talent level. Then last season’s mass exodus
occurred. Suddenly, Davis was one of the few players on the roster with
experience as a full time point guard.
There will be competition, as the Tar Heels
welcome star recruit Marcus Paige to team this season. If coach Roy Williams’
track record with point guards is any indication, he’ll be good. Still, Davis
looks to be in the mix as a contributor. Paige may have talent, but he’s still
a freshman. Davis will look to steady the team with his experience, while also
taking on the challenge of ACC play for the first time.
Before he can take on the ACC, Davis must
first take on tonight. He says the matchup with his old team will be "a
different kind of game, because I care about them, and they care about me.”
Aside from the drama of facing his old team, Davis is
excited just to be back on the court. He states that team success is his only
goal for the game and is ready to help UNC get back to a championship level.
For him, tonight will be just as much about the future as it is the past.