UNC vs. Duke Basketball: There’s Nothing Quite Like It


Some people say it’s the Yankees and Red Sox of College Basketball.  It’s not.  Boston and New York aren’t eight miles apart.  No Carolina player has ever suited up for Duke, or vice versa.  Duke vs. UNC happens two, maybe three times a year (God help us if its ever four), not 153 times in the regular season plus whatever happens in the postseason.  Sorry.  UNC vs. Duke wins.

Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Some people say its the Lakers vs Bulls, or Celtics or Heat or whoever the team du jour (that’s the team of the day. Mmm.  That sounds nice.  I’ll have that.) happens to be.  Simply by the fact that I can’t pinpoint an undying rivalry, UNC vs Duke wins.

What else?  Arsenal vs Chelsea?  I’m not going to even dignify that 0-0 tie with a response.

When I was in college, there was just an electricity in the air.  It usually started for me on Tuesday.  I was thinking about it.  Pretty much constantly.  It was a mix of anticipation (I can’t wait until we smash them!) and nervousness (what if we get smashed).  It was very similar to the feeling I used to get when I was a child before Christmas.

In the days leading up, ESPN Classic (do they even still have that?) would play classic UNC vs Duke games.  I’d still yell at the top of my lungs as they showed the classic double-OT game at Cameron.  The game of the Stackhouse dunk. The game Capel hit the half court shot that 80 percent of America is sure won the game, but actually just extended the game.  A game UNC ended up winning.  I couldn’t bring myself to watch the UNC losses again.

I’ve been to a grand total of three UNC vs. Duke games.  All three in the Smith Center.  I saw us get absolutely smashed by Jay Williams in 2001.  I saw us absolutely smash them with Ty, Tyler, and Wayne in 2009.  My FAVORITE one, though it was nice watching UNC win without any real stress, was the 1998 game.

I was a freshman.  I didn’t really understand yet.  But I knew enough to appreciate the amazing game that was.  It was the last year for the camp-out.  And it was a miserable night for camping out.  It rained.  A lot.  I’m 90% sure I saw someone gathering two of everything and shoving em on a boat.

It was insanely loud.  Duke was 9-0 in the ACC.  Carolina was ranked 1.  Fairly close early.  Brendan came off the bench and played really big.  Vince Carter played like a man possessed.  He was not going to lose.  Jamison was Jamison.  You couldn’t guard him.  No one could.  UNC was up by double digits at half.  Then a slip.  The inevitable Duke second half run.  A fifth foul and a tech.  Well that’ll help.  The single best missed dunk of all time, and if I remember correctly, the ball caromed off to Jamison at the top of the key who fed Shammond for the three.  Even when we missed, we couldn’t miss.  Ed Cota made Wojo look silly at times.  And he had the sheer guts to throw an alley oop off the backboard.  When Shammond hit that three, I have no idea how the roof didn’t come off the place.  It was deafening.

I should have stopped after that game.  It ruined me.  I became a snob.  I was spoiled by one of the greatest college basketball environments.  Electricity was flowing through the girders, through the bleachers, through the court.  I hear it was a lot like that in 2005.

I’ve never been to the glorified high school gym that is Cameron Indoor.  The fact that they have to reassure you that it is in fact Indoor says enough about the facilities as far as I’m concerned.  I’d love to see our team win.  I always love to see our team win.  I’ll be watching.  Hoping for a good game.  But secretly, I’m hoping for something magical.