Barack Obama once said, "Elections have consequences." On a cold late-October night, the St. Augustine's men's basketball team was the one that had to face the consequences.
St. Aug's was playing a preseason exhibition game in Chapel Hill, against North Carolina. And, unfortunately for the Falcons, it took place the day after the results for preseason All-ACC voting were released.
UNC senior guard RJ Davis was left off the team.
It's not just that Davis failed to make first-team All-ACC; he wasn't named to the second team either. The fifth player on the second team received 23 of 51 votes, meaning that well over half of the voters shut out Davis on their ballot.
That's nothing new. In the season-ending All-ACC voting last year, Davis failed to make first, second or third team. He was buried seven deep in the "others receiving votes" section, meaning that 21 ACC players received more. Nearly two-thirds of voters left him off of their ballot that time.
This despite the fact that Davis scored 16.1 points per game for the Tar Heels last season, second on the team and more than those scored by Armando Bacot, an All-ACC first-teamer last year and this preseason who received the second-highest number of votes in the conference both times. Davis also led the team in assists and was fourth on the team with an average of 5.1 rebounds; the three players with more rebounds were all 8-10 inches taller.
Davis also led the Tar Heels in assists the previous season, when he scored 13.5 points per game and averaged 4.3 rebounds as UNC made the national championship game. He didn't receive any All-ACC votes that time around.
The soft-spoken Davis would proclaim that it's not about individual honors but rather about the team.
"It's kind of easy not to pay too much attention to what's being said, from an individual standpoint," he said. "I'm not paying attention to expectations being held for my team or myself. I know what we have in the locker room. Anyone can say this or that — it doesn't move the needle for me."
However, when Davis took the floor against St. Aug's, he very quickly buried the needle on his personal speedometer. It was clear to everyone that he had something to prove. Davis drove the lane and scored a layup 11 seconds into the game. Then he brought the ball up and hit a three from the right wing. On the other end, he got a steal and drove coast to coast for a layup and one. Just over 100 seconds had been played, and Davis had scored all eight of the game's points.
He was far from done. When he hit back-to-back threes, 26 seconds apart, he had 14 points in the game. All the other players on both teams' rosters had combined for 16. When the dust cleared, Davis finished with a game-high 22 points. He was 5-for-10 from 3-point range and 3-for-4 with twos, and he added three assists and two steals.
Davis has spent most of his college career quietly doing his work, in the shadow of bigger personalities sucking up all the oxygen in the room. Bacot, who is UNC's all-time leading rebounder — and this year, with the benefit of a fifth COVID-19 year, will likely become the school's all-time leading scorer as well — is a big man, both in stature and schtick, talking trash and dropping hyperboles in interviews. The duo represented the school at ACC media day, and a steady stream of reporters came from Bacot's table to Davis, starting their question with, "Armando just said ..."
"Armando just said this team has the best chemistry of any he's been on."
"Armando just said the team has a chip on its shoulder."
Last year, Davis was also in the shadow of Caleb Love, a volume shooter and trash-talker who hit the game-winning shot in 2022's Final Four win over Duke. The team was voted preseason No. 1, then struggled with chemistry all year, including a rumored feud between the two guards that led to Love's transfer following a season when the team didn't even make the tournament.
After going from No. 1 to home for the postseason, North Carolina has been the target of jabs from rivals all offseason. And with a mass exodus of transfers following the season, it's a whole new supporting cast around Davis and Bacot, leading to plenty of people questioning how good this Tar Heel team will be.
"Me, personally, it hasn't bothered me," Davis said. "The main thing for us this past postseason was to work in silence. People heard too much about us. We needed to work things out, go under the radar a little bit and let our game do the talking."
In other words, after years of taking on the personality of the loudest voices, this year's Tar Heel team appears to be taking on the personality of its most consistent and dependable worker.
"My freshman year, I didn't have a senior guard to look after me," he said. "I'm just trying to to give (the team) guidance of how to be collegiate athletes. Little things like recovery, getting your shots up, coming in ready to practice every day. I think that's what's going to set us apart."
As Saint Augustine's can attest, when RJ Davis lets his game do the talking, things can get awfully loud.
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