Some random thoughts about Duke-UNC
- It’s not easy to win in your first season. Vic Bubas, Dean Smith, Neill McGeachy and Roy Williams all went winless against the other end of 15-501 while Bucky Waters, Bill Guthridge, Matt Doherty and Mike Krzyzewski all got wins in their first years.
- It’s easy to dehumanize your opponents in a rivalry and there aren’t too many Tar Heels we really like. But there are a few we think highly of: Eric Montross, Dante Calabria and Shammond Williams come to mind. We admired Montross for how intensely he attached himself to a pediatric cancer patient while he was at UNC. Shammond Williams came over and hung out at Krzyzewskiville and said he liked the Duke students. And Calabria just seemed like a good guy.
- When Dean Smith got remarried, he and his wife chose Duke Chapel for the ceremony. His car got dinged while they were inside.
- There are periodically players at each school that wanted to go to the other but, for whatever reason, couldn’t. UNC put a priority on Kenny Anderson, who chose Georgia Tech saying he “didn’t want to be just another horse in Dean Smith’s stable. The back up plan? Bobby Hurley. Jason Williams was originally keen on UNC but apparently Bill Guthridge wasn’t sold. The latest? Caleb Love, who was a big Duke fan growing up. But Duke preferred Jeremy Roach.
- There are also occasionally players who really, really irritate the other side. For UNC, perhaps no one was more irritating than Art Heyman. The legendary fight in 1961 infuriated UNC fans. And of course everyone hated Christian Laettner. Bobby Hurley was despised in Chapel Hill as was Steve Wojciechowski. Duke fans in turn widely detested Ed Cota, Brendan Haywood, the loathsome Makhtar Ndjaiye and Tyler Hansbrough. We’re sure you have your own list.
- The most intense stage of the Duke-UNC rivalry? Right after the Heyman fight possibly, but if not, then the period when Duke was ascending, then passing UNC. The 1988 season, when Duke beat JR Reid and UNC three times, was incredibly powerful. But after Duke’s 1991 title - remember UNC made it to the Final Four as well - and the second title in 1992 - the Heels were determined to regain their standing. Which they did with the 1993 title.
- The teams have tended to chase each other when it comes to national titles. Duke won in 1991-92; UNC in 1993. Duke won in 2015; the Tar Heels in 2017.
- A small but telling story we heard. Early in Mike Krzyzewski’s career, when he was still struggling and under pressure from the “concerned Iron Dukes,” who wanted him gone, a UNC manager spoke to Dean Smith as the Tar Heels were killing Duke (again). The manager remarked on Coach K’s struggles and said he must not be very good. Smith’s response? “You wait. He’s going to be great.” The manager told us that story, incidentally.
- Dean Smith, you may remember, was the driving force behind Coach K becoming the Olympics coach.
- Smith’s daughters and Krzyzewki’s both had the same piano teacher.
You should keep this in mind too. We’ve said before that Duke and UNC tend to parallel each other. It’s almost like a waltz. That’s not universally true though. For instance, we’re quite sure that Coach K studied how Smith stepped aside at UNC and learned from the perceived mistakes. In our opinion, those mistakes may have included a) waiting until quite late to announce his retirement, b) appointing Guthridge, a fine man but a quiet career assistant, as head coach, and c) trying to maintain control over his program after he retired. Hiring a young assistant in Scheyer may be a lesson learned. And while it’s possible K wanted to retire after last season, given how that year ended, it would have imposed a certain amount of chaos and uncertainty on the program. Can he resist Smith’s temptation to meddle? Doherty, you may remember, said that Smith hired him after Guthridge stepped down - not then-AD Dick Baddour. Smith also worked hard behind the scenes to ensure that Dick Baddour was hired as AD rather than Matt Kupec. He was quite correct as we found out later, when Kupec was forced out after some fund-raising irregularities (a questionable relationship with Hansbrough’s mother was part of that). We could be wrong but we’d guess Coach K studied that as well and realizes the importance of not trying to run things from retirement.