NCAA Tournament: UNC’s Davis coming into his own
By Bret Strelow
GREENSBORO ó Larry Drew II walked to Ed Davis’ locker and attempted to deliver two 12-ounce bottles of Vitaminwater.
A half-joking Davis, certain Drew had grabbed the wrong kind of fruit punch, expressed dissatisfaction with his North Carolina classmate’s ability to follow instructions.
Davis has some pull even as a freshman, but he’s remained patient while backing up junior forward Deon Thompson.
The 6-foot-10 Davis has started only two games this season.
“People are going to say what they want to say,” Davis said, “but Coach knows what he’s doing, and that’s all I want to know.”
The top-seeded Tar Heels (29-4) will resume their NCAA tournament run when they tangle with eighth-seeded LSU (27-7) today at 5:45 p.m. in the Greensboro Coliseum.
They reached the second round with a 101-58 victory against Radford on Thursday, when Davis scored a career-high 15 points. He had four blocks and five rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench.
Davis, who played for coach Sean McAloon at Benedictine High School in Richmond, Va., was going to extreme measures just to watch NCAA games last year.
“In between classes and at lunch, I remember trying to sneak into my coach’s office to see who’s playing, checking my cell phone every minute to see the scores of the games,” Davis said. “It’s like a dream come true. It’s just been fun because I’ve been watching it on TV my whole life.”
Davis had three double-doubles in his first seven college games, and his play has picked back up in the postseason.
He scored in double figures for the first time since early December when he posted 10 points in an ACC Tournament win against Virginia Tech. He had six points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes the next day in a loss to Florida State.
Davis’ length contributed to an 8-for-32 shooting performance from Radford post threats Artsiom Parakhouski, who is 6-11, and Joey Lynch-Flohr.
“I think Ed is one of those guys that is team-first in his mind,” UNC assistant coach Steve Robinson said. “He just wants to get on the floor and play hard.
“I think it’s the kid’s personality. I don’t think he came in with the expectations that he was going to get on the floor right away, but it still hasn’t stopped him from working hard and trying to find ways to contribute.”
Many North Carolina fans believe Davis could do even more.
Head coach Roy Williams has repeatedly defended his decision to start Thompson, who has struggled at times, over Davis.
The situation was similar in 2005, when senior Jawad Williams started at power forward and freshman Marvin Williams came off the bench. He was the No. 2 overall pick in that year’s NBA draft.
“(Marvin) gave us instant offense off the bench, and Eddie is more of a defense, rebounding, blocking shots kind of player,” Roy Williams said. “Both of them are wonderful kids who want to be coached and enjoy being on a big-time team and don’t feel like they’ve got to get 35 shots a game.”
Jawad Williams made third-team All-ACC but averaged only 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in the Tar Heels’ first four NCAA tournament games. He bounced back with a 20-point, eight-rebound effort in a Final Four win against Michigan State, and Marvin Williams scored the go-ahead basket as UNC beat Illinois in the title game.
Roy Williams didn’t put team chemistry at risk by benching an upperclassman in favor of a freshman.
“No one has a negative attitude on this team, and that’s what helps so much,” Thompson said. “Even if someone is playing more time than you, no one really gets bothered by it or has a bad attitude. I think Coach really does balance the time between players so well that it really can’t happen.”