Heel Tough Blog: Decision to Decline NIT Invite Has Two Different Sides
The Tar Heels decision to decline the NIT invitation might be the most polarizing topic in all of sports right now. After not receiving an NCAA Tournament invite on Sunday evening, the basketball program released a statement from Hubert Davis where the second year head coach announced the team would forego the NIT tournament. This left many folks around the program bickering about the decision and questions about how it was actually made. After Tuesday, there are more questions than answers to what went into that decision.
The craziness started with the comments from sophomore forward Dontrez Styles on his weekly appearance on ‘The Bryan Hanks Show’ yesterday morning. He was asked about the team’s decision to sit out the tournament and pointed to the coaches as the reason for that. “It was a coaches decision,” Styles said. “It was tough for everybody. “I think I would’ve (wanted to play) just to have the opportunity to play and showcase a little bit more of my talent. The NIT is not the Carolina standard, but there are some great team’s in there.” The notion of it being a coaches decision seemed to go against the original reporting from Inside Carolina on Sunday of it being more of a players choice than anything.
Later in the evening, Josh Peter of USA Today Sports posted an article after talking to three fathers of players in this year’s squad. The fathers of D’Marco Dunn and Caleb Love confirmed the original reporting that this was in fact a decision made by the players through an anonymous vote. Associate athletic director for sports information and media relations Steve Kirschner told Peter that the decision came via a combination of the player votes as well as inputs from the coaches and staff.
While this may have been something that the players wanted, this trio of fathers was not happy with the choice at all. Gilbert Johnson, the father of Puff Johnson, said that he is disappointed that this wasn’t strictly a coaches decision and that the team should've been playing in the tournament, saying the team needs the experience. Greg Dunn agreed with Johnson’s notion that the team could’ve used the tournament to give players more playing time and gain valuable experience. As for Dennis Love, he said that Caleb was in favor of playing and he, too, would like to have seen the Tar Heels play, but he understands the impact that playing and losing could have on this group.
Athletic director Bubba Cunningham backed Davis in a podcast interview on the Carolina Insider Podcast, saying that he and his head coach talked multiple times before coming to a decision. “Ultimately, we think the best thing for us right now is to call an end to the season,” he said to hosts Jones Angell and Adam Lucas in the episode that was released Tuesday. “We didn't have the year we hoped we'd have, for a variety of reasons. So we said, just take a deep breath, let's really take a deep, deep dive into the program and see what do we need to fix so that we can get better.”
Many people continue to lambaste Davis and the program, including Hall of Fame coach Tom Penders who said that the Tar Heels should be fined and punished moving forward by the committee in the future. Penders maybe a hall of famer, but he shouldn’t comment on a decision that comes in an era of college sports that he doesn’t understand at all.
Ultimately, this decision, while controversial, was the right one. There really wasn’t anything that this team could have gained from this other than heartbreak, especially with the majority of the team not even wanting to play. Forcing the team to play likely would have led to more division in the locker room and most likel;y would have pushed other players into the portal and delayed the announcement of those that were leaving regardless. Now, Davis can get a head start on recruiting the transfer portal, which will be key to turning the program back around. The choice not to play will allow Davis and the staff to take in home visits and help speed up the process of preventing another season like this from happening. Not getting the younger guys experience is certainly a downside, but in the long run, this decision will likely turn out to be the best thing for this program long term.