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In his early teens, Ed Davis would tag along with his father, Terry, to Virginia Union's Barco-Stevens Hall for pickup games. At times the temperature in the gym reached 110°, but that wasn't the worst of it for young Ed. His opponents on the block were often Charles Oakley, Ben Wallace or dear ol' dad—all former Virginia Union power forwards, each with at least a decade of NBA experience. Says Ed, "I had to learn to not back down."
As the sixth man on North Carolina's championship team last season, Davis was similarly stout. Despite playing only 18.8 minutes per game, the freshman led the Tar Heels in blocks, and he averaged an ACC-best 14.0 rebounds per 40 minutes. "I wish I had his long arms and jumping ability," says Terry Davis, 42. "I'd probably still be in the NBA."
Those qualities—and his impressive NCAA tournament performance, including 11 points and eight rebounds in 14 minutes of the title game—prompted draftniks to project Davis as a lottery pick. But he returned to Chapel Hill because he didn't think he was ready for the pros. "It was an easy decision," he says. Now comes the hard part: morphing from supersub to superstar.
Like the last time they won the championship (2005), the Tar Heels lost four key players to the NBA and will rely heavily on a freshman class loaded with McDonald's All-Americans, headlined by forward John Henson and towering twins David and Travis Wear. Returning with Davis are senior forward Deon Thompson and 7-foot sophomore Tyler Zeller, who missed most of last season with a broken left wrist.
Last year North Carolina stretched opposing defenses with its three-point shooting, but 94% of that production is gone. To compensate, says coach Roy Williams, "we need inside scoring." The onus falls on Davis, who added 15 pounds of muscle this summer, worked on his low-post and face-up moves, and learned to hit an intermediate jumper—"like his dad could," says Terry. No longer a backup, he's still not backing down.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Roy Williams (7th season)