Luke Davis won't play his first game for North Carolina until the Nov. 9 season opener against Gardner-Webb. But he's already heard the crowd cheering his name dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times. In fact, if he closes his eyes right now, in an empty Smith Center, he can almost hear it. He has the perfect fan-friendly name. Knock down a three-pointer, and you know what's going to happen.
It doesn't require much imagination for Davis to hear it, because he's been thinking about it all his life. The sophomore from Raleigh, who sat out last year as a transfer, grew up as a Carolina fan. When he shot baskets in his driveway as a kid, he was-as he puts it-"a scoring Ed Cota," which must have made him incredibly difficult to defend.
Security is tight to get into the Smith Center, and once Davis became an official member of the team, he had to receive various codes and clearances just to be able to work out. A palm scanner allows players entry to the building at any time. He quickly took advantage of it.
"They gave me the scan for my hand, and I came in here the very first night," he says, looking around at the empty blue seats. "I stayed until about three in the morning. I didn't want to leave, and I'm so excited to have the opportunity to do this. Every time I come into the Smith Center at night and turn the lights on, it gives me chills."
So that's a nice story. Davis has every bit of appreciation for the program that you do, and it's always fun to watch someone live out their dream. Listening to him talk about Carolina basketball, you get the distinct sense he's still every bit the fan that he was in his driveway.
But there's something else: Davis could be an important part of this year's team. Take a look at the point guard depth chart. There's freshman Marcus Paige, who has drawn raves from Roy Williams but who will inevitably have those days experienced by every freshman point guard. There's Dexter Strickland, who is coming back from a torn ACL and about whom the head coach said last week, "Dexter has never been a point guard."
Last year's emergency fill-in after injuries to Strickland and Kendall Marshall was Stilman White, who is not with the team while he serves his two-year Mormon mission. If there's one thing Tar Heel fans have learned during the Williams era, it's that you can never have too many point guards.
Enter Luke Davis. "No one knows Luke Davis, including us," Williams said recently. "You don't know much about a youngster until you get him in game action. But we know more than anybody because we saw him in practice every day, and one thing we saw is that he is very competitive."
Well, OK, but what kind of player is he? At minimum, he certainly talks like a point guard.
"I'm always going to play hard," Davis says. "I like to push the ball, and I'm going to play with a lot of effort and energy. Playing here, you have the best talent in the country around you. My job is to give them opportunities to score. My job is to give them a way to show their abilities, because what they do best is make plays."
There have been murmurings from his teammates that Davis might be a candidate to surprise this year. When he arrived in the summer of 2011, there was little time to think about a transfer from Gardner-Webb. After all, the Tar Heels were returning Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall. Depth at the guard positions? That wasn't really on the radar of most observers last year.
But now it is, and within a month Davis will have gone from emulating a Carolina point guard in his driveway to being the point guard on the hardwood (he still endearingly shakes his head at the mere thought of it). By the time he plays in the season opener against his former team, it will have been 20 months since he last played in a college basketball game. Despite the lack of game action, his head coach thinks he's seen encouraging signs.
"He is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen," Williams said. "I'm talking about a Tyler Hansbrough-type level with work ethic and attention to detail and discipline. With having to sit out last year, working hard was what he had to grab onto. We saw him get better in practice the second month than he was in the first month, and better the third month than the second month. I think he's going to play, and I think he's going to be important."
When the comparison to Hansbrough is relayed to Davis, his eyes get a little wider. He, out of anyone, knows what a comparison to Hansbrough's work ethic means.
There may come a time this year when it is just basketball for him, although right now he seems so genuinely thrilled to be in Chapel Hill that it's possible it might never get old for him to be a Tar Heel. He is not content to just be a fan who gets to sit on the bench, and knows he can do more than that.
Right now, though, there is a Carolina blue jersey hanging in his locker with the name "Davis" stitched on the back. Not Walter Davis. Not Hubert Davis. Not even Larry Davis, and yes, he knows all of them. This one belongs to Luke Davis.
He caught some ribbing from his teammates, because when he saw it hanging there, he just had to take a picture. Or maybe a couple of pictures, just to confirm it.
"Words can't explain it," he says, but of course he doesn't have to explain it because you know just what he's talking about. "I had to send a picture to my dad. I never seriously dreamed about playing here, other than to think, 'That would be awesome.' The jersey made it official, but it's still crazy to me."