TarHeelIllustrated - Iron Five Or Deep Bench, Davis Says It's Up To The Players
{{ timeAgo('2022-06-22 08:08:54 -0500') }} basketball Edit

Iron Five Or Deep Bench, Davis Says It's Up To The Players

UNC Coach Hubert Davis would rather play a deep rotaiton, but says it's up to his players to determine their minutes.
UNC Coach Hubert Davis would rather play a deep rotaiton, but says it's up to his players to determine their minutes. (Jenna Miller/THI)


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CHAPEL HILL – The “Iron Five” quickly became a thing within Tar Heel lore a few months ago during North Carolina’s run to the national championship game.

UNC’s starting five rarely took a breather from late January on, and aside from foul trouble or getting banged up, or in Brady Manek’s case, being ejected from an NCAA Tournament game, the Iron Five played around 90 percent of the minutes.

But that wasn’t by design. A question bounced around in the press and social media since the Heels fell to Kansas in the national title game April 3 was if Carolina Coach Hubert Davis would use more of his bench next season.

UNC returns nine scholarship players, including freshman Will Shaver, who enrolled in January, so he used up his redshirt season, and four of the returnees were starters. It also welcomes in three freshmen, each of whom might be capable of getting minutes. The probability that guard Seth Trimble lands in the rotation from day one is high. Plus, Carolina brings in Northwestern transfer Pete Nance, an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer last season, who likely will start in the spot vacated by Manek's departure.

Playing just a few guys isn’t a Davis thing, though. It is solely about the players and based on how they perform.

“What determines the depth chart is them, I don’t determine that,” Davis said last Wednesday during his summer press conference at the Smith Center. “I’m not going into the season saying I want to play 10 or I want an eight-man rotation, they determine it.

“The five that I played a lot last year, especially toward the end of the year, they determined it by their play in practice every day, and it was confirmed by their play in the game.”

Dawson Garcia (13) was averaging 20.6 minutes per game when he left the team for good in January.
Dawson Garcia (13) was averaging 20.6 minutes per game when he left the team for good in January. (Kevin Roy/THI)

In fairness to UNC's coach, it wasn’t as if he barely played the bench from the outset last season. Anthony Harris averaged nearly 12 minutes per game before being declared by the school unable to play after appearing in 14 games. Then, following a terrible week in which UNC lost by a combined 50 points at Miami and Wake Forest, Dawson Garcia went home and did not return. He averaged 20.6 minutes in the 16 games in which he appeared.

So, with February a week away, Davis was suddenly forced to handle a lineup minus two key rotation guys. The Iron Five stuff was somewhat forced upon him.

“I don’t want to play five, I want to have a bigger rotation, but I’m not going to give people playing time,” Davis said. “I’m gonna give everyone an opportunity, 100 percent. Every day in practice, you have an opportunity to play, plain and simple, period, the end. But the players will determine the rotation.”

To be clear, Davis reiterated a few times he would rather play more guys than fewer. That is the basketball universe in which he grew up, playing under Dean Smith and seeing firsthand the value in getting a bunch of players into games, especially early in seasons.

Smith’s teams rarely ever tired in big games, they were fresh and made smart decisions as a result. In April, Davis saw his team finally get tired. The Cal Ripken nature of the team started to crack some. Not by the fault of the players, they simply wore down, which was bound to happen at some point, and for them, at least it didn’t occur until the last night of the season.

“I really believe, when we played Kansas, it was the first time all year that I thought they were tired,” Davis acknowledged. “We were in the huddle in the second half, and RJ’s using a thumper on both calves, and I just felt like they were tired. They gave this team everything that they had.”

They did, and fell to the Jayhawks by three points, but that was after leading by 15 at halftime.

Now, Davis did dip into his bench some in the NCAA Tournament. Then-freshman Dontrez Styles played 40 minutes combined in the first two rounds, and Puff Johnson played 67 minutes in the Tar Heels’ six NCAA games, twice scoring 11 points in games. He played 18 minutes in the title game because Leaky Black was in foul trouble.

So, as formal practices don’t begin for another few months, but offseason workouts are in full swing, Davis is anticipating his guys once again being fully responsible for however minutes he eventually gives them.

This is a mandate of the program. It is an unbreakable credo.

“Right now, we have 12 (scholarship players) on the team, if all 12 practice really well and confirm the way that they play in practice in the games, I’ll play a rotation of 12,” Davis said. “I don’t go pre-determined; the players determine what the rotation is and how much time that they get.”

So, whatever UNC’s rotation looks like next season, it is simply the head coach responding to how his guys perform. As he says, “plain and simple, period, the end.”