How ‘Breakfast Club’ turned UNC backcourt into one of the best

North Carolina's Caleb Love (2) congratulates RJ Davis (4) after a three point basket by Davis during the second half against Brown on Friday, November 12, 2021 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC

North Carolina’s Caleb Love (2) congratulates RJ Davis (4) after a three point basket by Davis during the second half against Brown on Friday, November 12, 2021 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC

rwillett@newsobserver.com

There were times watching Caleb Love and RJ Davis as freshmen in North Carolina’s backcourt where it was hard to envision things working out. The pair contained a similar skill set and neither was what basketball people would call a pure point guard.

Now with the junior guards on the floor, it’s hard to imagine anything going wrong for the Tar Heels and they credit the Breakfast Club for making it happen.

It was a year ago in August when Carolina basketball director of team and player development Jackie Manuel, who started on the Tar Heels’ 2005 national championship team, suggested on a group chat with Love, Davis and graduate assistant Brandon Robinson, that the pair develop a daily routine and have something consistent that could help improve their games.

Love and Davis agreed they’d work best in the morning and they renamed their group chat to the Breakfast Club.

“It was kind of like a mutual thing just to come together,” Davis said. “Like we’re point guards on this team, we lead this team, so it was like why not work together so that we could build off the chemistry going into the games.”

Love and Davis presents a rare sight for an elite program. In today’s game having the same backcourt for three seasons is near impossible with the lure of turning professional and the transfer portal often tugging one or both players away.

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North Carolina’s Caleb Love (2) chest bumps RJ Davis (4) after a three point basket by Davis during the second half against Brown on Friday, November 12, 2021 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The last time Carolina had a backcout with more than two years of experience as Tar Heels was when Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington from the Class of 2006 were three-year starters. Both left after capturing the 2009 national title.

As Love and Davis start year two under head coach Hubert Davis ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25, they hope to accomplish the same thing as juniors.

“We have a great connection on the court and just us being together the last two years, it’s been great just to see him grow into the player he is now,” Love said. “I can’t be more proud of him because I know exactly where we were as freshmen.”

‘We weren’t that good’

Love and RJ Davis tried to make an impossible transition from high school to starting in the same backcourt as freshmen without the benefit of reporting to school in the summer. Because of COVID-19 restrictions still in place on campus during the summer of 2020, they couldn’t work with strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian. And they didn’t get the chance to learn from their more experienced teammates or the cascade of former UNC players who return for summer pick-up games.

It led to an uneven freshman season where former coach Roy Williams tried starting them together in the same backcourt for only 10 games. Both Love and Davis had a turnover rate of more than 22%, according to KenPom.com’s advanced analytics. Williams moved freshman shooting guard Kerwin Walton into the lineup and brought Davis off the bench.

“We weren’t that good,” Love said. “We weren’t that good, but just to see how much we’ve grown in the two years that we’ve been here, it’s great to see.”

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North Carolina’s Caleb Love (2) and RJ Davis (4) react as they secure the Tar Heels’ 73-66 victory over UCLA on Friday, March 25, 2022 during the NCAA East Regional semi-final at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

How they grew started at 7 o’clock daily.

The pair would meet Robinson at the Dean E. Smith Center with Manuel offering occasional pep talks before they began.

For 30 minutes to an hour, Love and Davis would go to work. The plan wasn’t to be in there too long, but to efficiently address the areas they needed to work on the most. They tried to replicate game-like situations and make game-like reads prior to the start of the season.

Robinson said they tweaked the workouts when the regular season started especially when it was clear Hubert Davis was going to lean on them to play heavy minutes.

“The biggest thing I wanted to do was when they came in the morning after a game was not necessarily just working out, but we were making corrections on the stuff that they messed up in the game,” Robinson said. “So we’re walking through a lot of things that they did. We would take the shots that they missed in the game and we’d rep those shots and make five in a row and the moves that they miss in the game instead of doing a lot of form shooting and a lot of free throws.”

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North Carolina’s Caleb Love (2) shoots over RJ Davis (4) and Dawson Garcia (13) during a scrimmage at Late Night on Friday, October 15, 2021 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

‘What makes us so deadly’

Love and Davis would also compete against each other in drills or shooting contests to challenge each other. The numbers reflected on the court.

Davis’ turnover rate went from 22.1% down to 15.7% as his shooting from 3-point range improved from 32.3% to 36.7%. Love’s turnover rate dipped from 24.6% to 17.9% as his 3-point shooting improved from 26.6% to 36.0%.

“We know how much work we put in,” Love said.

And that work not only improved their skill set, but helped them better understand each other as players.

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North Carolina’s Caleb Love (2) and RJ Davis (4) react as they secure the Tar Heels’ 73-66 victory over UCLA on Friday, March 25, 2022 during the NCAA East Regional semi-final at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

“Last year was their first year really together, having a normal experience with being together developing a relationship, playing in front of a crowd,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said. “And so their relationship all throughout the year continued to build. They have a great chemistry with each other right now and I think it’s because last year we didn’t have those COVID restrictions and they were able to spend time together, not just on the court, but off the court.”

The Breakfast Club isn’t actually about breakfast. But Carolina, even after its success last season and with one of the best backcourts in college basketball, remains hungry for more.

“It was tremendous how confident we got individually and collectively just believing in each other,” RJ Davis said. “And I think that’s what makes us so deadly.”

This story was originally published October 20, 2022 6:10 AM.

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CL Brown covers the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings more than two decades of reporting experience including stints as the beat writer on Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stay at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he earned an APSE award, he’s had stops at ESPN.com, The Athletic and even tried his hand at running his own website, clbrownhoops.com.

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