Moving out: New coach Hubert Davis taking Tar Heels outside

New coach Hubert Davis plans to make the 3-point shot a focus of the Tar Heels' offense in his first year leading UNC. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — Armando Bacot made eight out of his 10 shot attempts in UNC’s win at Pitt on Jan. 26. One of his two misses in that game could be an indication of what this year will hold, however.

With 9:15 left in the first half and Carolina clinging to a five-point lead, Bacot put up a 3-point shot as the shot clock ran down. The ball was off the mark and the rebound knocked out of bounds by the Panthers.

In two years at North Carolina, Bacot has attempted 461 shots. That was the only one that came from 3-point range. If new coach Hubert Davis has his way, the junior big man will be firing away from long range far more often this year, and more than a few should go in the basket.

Like most teams under coach Roy Williams, the 2020-21 Tar Heels were built from the inside out. The team featured a rotation of four big men — in addition to Bacot, there was senior Garrison Brooks and freshmen Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler.

Bacot is the only one left as the 2021-22 season dawns. That includes the head coach.

“Last year we had four unbelievable bigs,” Davis said, “but for the most part, we had four traditional bigs that posted up down low on the block.”

Davis, known for his outside shooting during his UNC career and decade in the NBA, has rebuilt the team in his image, and that means a new focus on the perimeter — even for a player expected to be one of the top big men in the ACC.

“One of the things from an offensive standpoint I’ve always loved is versatile bigs,” Davis said. “So with Armando coming back and being able to add (Virginia transfer) Justin McKoy and (Oklahoma transfer) Brady Manek and (Marquette transfer) Dawson Garcia, bigs that can handle the basketball, they can make plays on the perimeter, they can shoot from three. From an offensive standpoint, it’s going to give us the spacing and balance and movement that we wanted on the offensive end.”

That means a new role for Bacot.

“One of the things that people don’t understand, throughout the summer, every week he made a thousand threes,” Davis said of Bacot’s development. “We’ve had great discussion about him and his dreams and goals of playing at the next level in the NBA. And one of the things that I told him is in order for that to happen, you’re going to have to develop a perimeter game, being able to handle the basketball, make plays on the perimeter, and Armando’s ability now to be able to handle the basketball, make plays on the perimeter and shoot the ball from the outside is going to work perfectly alongside those three transfers.”

Bacot is on board with the new plan for the offense.

“It was a thousand per week, but it ended up being a lot more than that,” he said. “I had to work on the speed of my shot and also getting the ball more in the middle. I was shooting more to the side. And my follow-through.”

Bacot emphasized that he had to make 1,000 a week, not merely put them up. So, the natural follow-up question is: How many did he have to take to accomplish that?

“Depends on the week,” he laughed. “I try to be somewhere between the 65-70% range. A lot of shots though. My arms got tired.”

Guard Caleb Love pointed out that the new emphasis wasn’t merely aimed at Bacot.

“Everybody had to make 1,000 threes a week,” he said. “Everybody on the team.”

The focus on the 3-pointer isn’t limited to offense either.

“Just over the years, teams have just been able to lace it from three, and so we’ve got to do a good job not only taking away the three, but also being in a better position to be able to contest the three,” Davis said.

While the change in approach seems to be a major one for a program that prides itself on tradition, both Davis and Bacot disagree.

“One of the things that I talked about at the (introductory) press conference is the foundation of who Carolina is,” Davis said. “I believe in it. It’s been tried. It’s been tested. It’s been proven successful. I believe in what Coach (Dean) Smith taught. I believe in what Coach (Bill) Guthridge taught. I believe in Coach Williams, how he ran the program. It’s something that — and I’ve said before, that I want to travel the same road. I’m just going to do it with my own personality and my own shoes.”

“Coach Davis is still about fundamental Carolina values,” Bacot said. “He’s just adding a twist to it, kind of like an iPhone update.”

The new software will need to work for a much larger coverage area, as the Tar Heels will be looking to dial long-distance this season.