TarHeelIllustrated - Looking Ahead: RJ Davis
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Looking Ahead: RJ Davis

This week, THI looks head to next season focusing on sophomore guard RJ Davis.
This week, THI looks head to next season focusing on sophomore guard RJ Davis. (ACC Media)

THI’s annual series taking a look at the Tar Heels returning for next season is back. It must be noted that North Carolina has signed two prospects for the class of 2021 who will join the program in the summer.

Next season will also be the first for Hubert Davis at the helm of the Tar Heels.

In the first two weeks we have looked at Caleb Love and Kerwin Walton, and today we look at sophomore guard RJ Davis:

Like most of North Carolina’s players last basketball season, RJ Davis was inconsistent during the 2020-21 campaign.

The lows included some serious struggles, but the highs showed glimpses of what could come down the road. It revealed the 6-foot guard from White Plans, NY, can get on hot streaks shooting from the perimeter, and once the game started slowing down, he found ways to get off less contested shots more so than earlier in the season.

It also showed that Davis and Caleb Love learned to coexist at times on the floor, as experience and hoops maturity worked in their favor. Most important, it was rather obvious that Davis has game, and at times he was outstanding.

One thing is absolutely clear: Davis’ confidence grew as the season went on. His ups and downs earlier in the campaign paid off late at times but will more so gearing toward next season.

RJ Davis' best game came in an ACC Tournament win over Virginia Tech.
RJ Davis' best game came in an ACC Tournament win over Virginia Tech. (ACC Media)

“I feel like I've watched him grow up almost,” said rising senior Leaky Black during the ACC Tournament. “So, it's like at the beginning of the year, him and Caleb (Love) would get down on themselves for mental stuff and little turnovers and stuff like that. I feel like it's lately as soon as he turns the ball over, he's like, next play.

“He's still got that in the back of his mind, but he's like, next play. You see the maturity growing inside of him, so we're proud of him.”

Davis averaged 8.4 points per game while shooting 35 percent from the floor, including 32.3 percent from three-point range. He also averaged 2.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per contest.

He scored in double figures 12 times, including in his first four games as a Tar Heel. He had a four-game stretch in January in which he was in double figures with his season-high coming in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament in a 19-point effort during a win over Virginia Tech.

UNC was 9-5 in games Davis scored 10 or more points, including the Tar Heels winning five of the last six games in which he was in double figures. Davis hit multiple threes in 10 different outings, of which the Tar Heels won seven times.

RJ Davis scored in double figures 12 times during his freshman season.
RJ Davis scored in double figures 12 times during his freshman season. (Maui Invitational)

Two of his best games came in the postseason, as Davis went for 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting in a win over Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament, and the next night he carried the Tar Heels in the second half to a win over Virginia Tech by scoring 14 of his 19 points after halftime. He was 6-for-10 shooting that night, including 4-for-7 from the perimeter.

The biggest sequence that evening might also be a sign of what could be coming: Midway through the second half and Carolina holding on to just a one-point lead, Davis hit a big three to make it 53-49, Then, on the other end of the floor, he stole the ball from Tech’s Hunter Cattoor, raced the other way and converted a layup on the break while also drawing a foul. He made the free throw for a six-point UNC swing in the span of 21 seconds giving the Tar Heels a 56-49 lead.

“I know I hit a big three and then I just kept telling myself one stop,” Davis said afterward. “Every time after we score, kept telling myself and my teammates all we need is one stop. And once I saw his back turned to me, I reached in and stole the ball and got an and-one.

“And I think that changed the momentum of the game, and I think that was like a key for us to win the game.”

Reason For Optimism

The play just noted is an example of the kind of player Davis was at times last season and might be more often next winter. There is a ruggedness to his game combined with finesse, and as he gains more experience and finds comfort in Hubert Davis’ offense, the sophomore will be a very important part of what Carolina does on both ends of the floor, and he should not only be able to handle it, but is primed to take a big step forward. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, Davis should be more consistent.

2021-22 Projection

Davis may not start next season, but either way he will play major minutes for the Tar Heels and will give them an edge in the backcourt that can only serve the team well. Look for him to get some run with Caleb Love together, and with more consistency from both, they could give opponents fits at times and something unique to prepare for. Davis will play a lot and be a major factor for the Tar Heels.