UNC basketball got help from NBA players this summer

The backcourt of Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton and RJ Davis in North Carolina never knew they needed a summer at Chapel Hill – until these Class of 2020 guards get through the summer at Chapel Hill.

The COVID-19 pandemic last year has erased what was somewhat of a rite of passage for new Tar Heels players. They come to campus for summer school. They start their strength and conditioning regimen and, more importantly, play basketball games with former and current players.

As the Tar Heels officially begin men’s basketball training on Tuesday for the first time under new head coach Hubert Davis, the trio are feeling better prepared for what’s to come in the regular season.

“The two summer sessions have been extremely helpful to us as, you know, being in the weight room and on the court with our new team in chemistry,” said second year guard RJ Davis. “… so I feel like last summer was a lot better than last summer as we just got thrown into the fire and had to pick up things on the go.”

No one knew this would be the case more than former coach Roy Williams. One of the unwritten rules of Carolina basketball is that old players help prepare newcomers to play during these summer interactions.

It was no surprise to Williams that many teams that relied heavily on freshmen last season struggled throughout the year because they didn’t have the opportunity to live. the normal summer transition to acclimate to their new programs. (See also: Duke, Kentucky from last season.)

Williams said Love, Davis and Walton would have benefited from playing with former guard Coby White last year the same way White and others won playing pickup when Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson and d others returned to the game. The trio were able to find out how much they missed that moment when people like White, who is now with the Chicago Bulls, and others like Theo Pinson returned to campus for a period this time. been to train and play games at Chapel Hill. .

“The guys in the NBA would have stopped them and told them about what needed to be done and what training would be like, we had none of that,” Williams told News & Observer. “It wasn’t what they thought college was going to be and it’s not what it has ever been here in North Carolina. So I think in particular of Caleb and RJ, it affected those two guys, I think, more than anyone.

The missing summer was manifested on the pitch by the number of mistakes made by the young Heels. They didn’t know all the nuances of their teammates’ games that come from playing with them multiple times during the summer.

Love’s turnover rate was 24.6 and Davis’s was 22.1, according to KenPom.com, which was the first time Caroline’s top two ball handlers have exceeded 20% since Kendall Marshall (29.5 ) and Larry Drew II (28.9) in the 2010-11 season. The last time the UNC playmaker broke that mark was when a freshman Marcus Paige (25.6) was propelled into the starting role in 2012-13 due to Marshall’s early departure for the NBA.

Paige is one of Carolina’s former players who now plays professionally overseas, and she made it a point to come back this summer. The same goes for White and Kennedy Meeks. Love said Paige was one of the toughest players he’s defended over the summer.

“It’s the pickup games that really helped me,” Love said. “Learning from the guys who come back and in terms of development, I think the coaches, all the coaches being on the pitch and helping us day in and day out has been helpful. “

Hubert Davis pointed out that no matter how talented the incoming freshmen are, there is always a great fit in college basketball. When Davis played for the Heels, he said it helped him as a freshman to have someone like current assistant coach Jeff Lebo on the roster. Lebo, who was a senior when Davis was in freshman, helped “set the standard for what he had to do to be successful.”

As important as it was this summer for Hubert Davis to get three transfers to strengthen his frontcourt after the departures of Day’Ron Sharpe, Garrison Brooks and Walker Kessler, it was just as important to have his backcourt comeback. at Chapel Hill for the first time. . Love, RJ Davis and Walton finally got the guardianship of the old Tar Heels.

“They came to campus and put the ball in their hands, gave them the keys and said, ‘Hey, you’re in North Carolina, let’s go,'” said Hubert Davis. “So they never had this older player to help them in any way. And so having that experience as a freshman back in second year, you can see the confidence, their understanding of what he’s doing. it takes to be successful, and all three have improved so much and I’m really excited to see the development of them from their first year to their second year.

Walton has said he expects great things from Love in particular, after a season where “people have probably already written him off.”

“He will be 10 times better than last year because of the amount of work he put in and his focus,” said Walton. “I think he’s going to be awesome.”

This story was originally published September 27, 2021 4:18 pm.

CL Brown covers the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings over two decades of reporting experience, including stints as a beat writer at Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stint at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he won an APSE award, he stopped by ESPN.com, The Athletic and even tried his hand at running his own website, clbrownhoops.com.

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