- Robbi Pickeral, College Basketball
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina point guard Luke Davis doesn’t know whether he’ll be more excited or jittery come Nov. 9.
He’s just ready for his first regular-season game as a Tar Heel to get here, already.
“I’ve thought about it; I sit in class and I start to lose track of what the teacher’s talking about, because I imagine what it will be like, running out there onto the court,’’ the 6-foot sophomore transfer said. “It’s going to be awesome; but it’s hard, because it’s not here yet. You think, ‘That game’s going to be crazy,’ but it’s not here yet. I’m trying not to be nervous, or think much more than, ‘We’ve got to go out there, and play well.' But obviously, as a Carolina fan growing up, it’s more to me than that.”
Actually, it’s a dream come true.
Davis, who grew up in Raleigh, is one of those North Carolina kids. His grandpa Nick was a UNC grad who first taught him to dribble on an undersized backyard court that had lines painted Carolina blue. His dad Pete, who played basketball at Lenoir-Rhyne, was the first to show him how to catch the ball and square up.
Luke and his best friend in kindergarten used to dress up in UNC basketball uniforms and cut down the nets on pee-wee Fisher Price goals.
And the TV in the Davis household was always tuned to a Tar Heels game -- especially when Ed Cota was playing.
“Just the way he passed the ball, he was something else,’’ said Luke.
A pass-first ballhandler himself, Davis headed to Gardner-Webb after his senior season at Ravenscroft High. He started 30 games for the Runnin' Bulldogs in 2010-11, averaged 7.2 points, set a school freshman record with 135 assists and named to the Big South conference All-Freshman team.
It was a great start, but at a smaller school than he preferred. “He liked his coaches and his team, but he just wasn’t as happy there as he could be, and he started talking about the possibility of leaving,’’ Pete Davis said.
Thus, Luke was pondering his options as he watched North Carolina play Kentucky in the 2011 NCAA Elite Eight on TV. That’s when he received a text message from his dad.
“Walk on at UNC?” it read.
At first, Davis laughed. Chapel Hill? The team he grew up cheering? No way.
But then he picked up the phone.
“And the more we talked about it, the more we thought, why not try?” Davis said last week. “Why not follow the dream?”
Davis contacted his former Ravenscroft coach, Kevin Billerman, who in turn contacted then-UNC-assistant Jerod Haase. Davis drove to UNC on a couple of occasions to play some informal pick-up games, and before he knew it, he’d been accepted as a walk-on transfer.
“He was just so excited, and we were so excited for him,’’ said Pete Davis, whose oldest son, Zack, also attends UNC and whose youngest son, Drew, plays linebacker on NC State’s football team. “He is where he wants to be, and it’s just such a wonderful opportunity.”
Sitting out last season, as per NCAA rules, was difficult in some aspects, educational in others.
“Really during the season, I think it was in practice when I learned most,’’ Davis said. “Having to guard Kendall [Marshall] was just a headache, but it was just such a great experience. And I think I just approached it the right way every day, trying to learn something new. … I don’t know if I would have been as good as I am if I didn’t have to sit out. I think that gave me a chance to mature as a basketball player and look at the game a different way.”
Indeed, teammates have lauded his scrappiness, his passing, his competitive nature; and coach Roy Williams has said Davis may surprise some people.
“He works really hard … and he’s going to help us,’’ junior wing Reggie Bullock said.
He may need to. With starting point guard Marcus Paige still learning the ropes as a freshman, and senior shooting guard/backup point guard Dexter Strickland just eight months out of ACL surgery, Davis could be called upon for more playing spurts than what you might expect out of a mid-major transfer. And after watching last year’s third-string ballhandler, Stilman White, start two games in the NCAA tournament because of injuries to Marshall and Strickland, Davis plans to be prepared for anything.
“I’m going to try to help this team any way I can,’’ said Davis, who is on scholarship this season. “And no matter what -- whether I’m in there for two minutes, or more than that -- I’m going to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful.”
He’s just ready ready for Nov. 9 -- when the Tar Heels open their season against his former team, Gardner-Webb, at the Smith Center -- to get here.
“I’m just so thankful, so blessed, for the journey I’m on right now,’’ he said. “I keep imagining what it’s going to be like to run out of that tunnel for the first game … but I know the real thing is going to be awesome.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
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