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UNC Basketball: The story of the first former player to coach the Tar Heels

Hubert Davis leads the way for the Heels nowadays, but he’s not the first former player to coach Carolina.

Syracuse v North Carolina Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images

Currently, the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball team are coached by a former UNC player in Hubert Davis. A distinguished player at the school, he ascended to the position after working for and being mentored by Roy Williams.

While his two years in the job have had mixed results and that may leave you with your own opinions on how he’s doing, it would undoubtedly be very cool if he had a long and distinguished coaching career in Chapel Hill. A former UNC player continuing on the tradition before passing it on to another Tar Heel is a very fun thing to root for.

Davis is not the first former UNC player to have been the head coach. The man he replaced in Williams played on the JV team. Williams famously replaced Matt Doherty, who himself was on the 1982 national championship team. While we’d all like to forget the Doherty era, he was the first in a long time to have coached the Tar Heels after playing for him. However, he was not the very first. For that, you have to go back to the very early days of the program.

Angus “Monk” McDonald has to be in the running for the best pure all-around athlete in UNC history. In his time at Chapel Hill, he played for all of the football, baseball, and basketball teams. He was part of the 1923-24 Helms Foundation national championship team, who have a banner that prominently hangs in the Smith Center next to the NCAA Tournament title ones. That team was coached by Norman Shepherd, but — because this was still the early days of college sports — he left after that season, opting instead to take a business opportunity overseas. In his place, the school gave the job to McDonald, who had only just graduated.

While simultaneously also attending medical school, McDonald led Carolina to a 20-5 record. While they did take their first loss in nearly two years, falling to Harvard, UNC ran the table in the Southern Conference, finishing league play 8-0. That got them the #1 seed in that year’s Southern Conference Tournament.

The 1925 SoCon Tournament that year was a 22-team affair in Atlanta with Carolina needed to win five-straight games. UNC started their run with double digit wins over Virginia Tech and LSU before getting past Georgia Tech by only eight. They crushed Georgia in the semifinal, setting up a championship game against Tulane. After leading by only two at halftime, Carolina eventually pulled away, winning their second-consecutive SoCon Tournament. Despite repeating as conference champions, there we’re no national championship claims awarded to UNC in 1924-25, but it was still a very successful season.

However, it would be McDonald’s only as UNC coach. As mentioned early, he was coaching while simultaneously attending medical school. After that one year at the helm, he opted to focus on his studies.

He would eventually return to the state and had a urology practice in Charlotte for many year. For his sporting exploits, McDonald would be inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.


“Dictionary of North Carolina Biography: Vol. 4, L-O” edited by William S. Powell

“University of North Carolina Basketball” by Adam Powell

“Tales from the North Carolina Tar Heels Locker Room: A Collection of the Greatest UNC Basketball Stories Ever Told” by Ken Rappoport