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Stakes Are High For Duke-Carolina, Round Two

The Tar Heels have the chance to end the regular season with an exclamation point Saturday night in the Smith Center, as is generally the case when the Blue Devils come to Chapel Hill.

***Listen to the story***

No. 19 North Carolina will remember well its 92-90 overtime loss at Cameron Indoor a few weeks ago. Up by double digits in the closing minutes of regulation, some sloppy mistakes in a rowdy environment cost the Tar Heels dearly.

Saturday offers a chance at redemption. That chance at revenge certainly isn’t lost on UNC head coach Roy Williams. Roy’s all fired up.

Roy Williams all fired up on the sidelines (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams all fired up on the sidelines (Todd Melet)

“If we have a letdown this time, we don’t have a freaking heart. Come on. We’re playing Duke, they beat us last time, and it’s the greatest rivalry in all of college basketball. If we get beat, it won’t be because of a letdown. If we have a letdown Saturday, I mean, what have we done? We’re not even in the top four,” Coach Williams says.

Roy pointed out another interesting subplot to Saturday evening’s festivities.

Louisville and UNC are competing for the No. 4 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament. The Cardinals face the back-to-back ACC regular season champion Virginia Cavaliers in game one of ESPN’s doubleheader. A loss there would open the door for the Tar Heels to secure the precious double bye in Greensboro next week.

As for Duke,  head coach Mike Krzyzewski has no such worries. His Blue Devils locked up the No. 2 seed next week with their senior night thrashing of Wake Forest Wednesday night.

Coach K is concerned, however, with a couple bum ankles.

“Our trainer said it didn’t seem bad. We’ll see. I don’t think long-lasting. I hope everybody is ready for Saturday. We only have the eight guys. That’s not a good thing. We’re concerned,” Coach K says.

Senior Quinn Cook meets with Coach K (Duke Photography)

Senior Quinn Cook meets with Coach K (Duke Photography)

The Tar Heels come into the rivalry matchup with some momentum. Coming off two road victories at Miami and Georgia Tech, Carolina appears to be in fine form.

“We tried to do a better job on the big guys in the second half [vs. GT]. We sort of meandered around there a little bit. We got enough breaks, enough layups and enough shots to go in the basket. But I do believe the whole thing is we just had more bodies than they did,” Coach Williams says.

A healthy Pinson adds even more depth to an already deep UNC lineup. Duke, on the other hand, doesn’t have that luxury. Getting into foul trouble is not an option for the shorthanded Blue Devils.

That’s why Coach K is emphasizing getting healthy.

“We secured the second spot for the ACC Tournament, which is great. Big game on Saturday. Let’s get healthy and go for it,” Coach K says.

Freshman Tar Heel Joel Berry tallied a career-high 15 points against Georgia Tech, including a trio of three-pointers.

If Berry’s knocking down outside shots, look out.

“You just got to put in the extra work if you want to see things happen in the game. I just try to after practice, get up extra shots. Once I get out on the court, game-time situation, that will help a lot,” Berry says.

Practice is in fact making perfect for Berry. The returning Pinson is hoping for the same.

“I’ve been running and cutting on it all week. I was pretty comfortable with it. I was just ready to get the heck out there and play basketball,” Pinson says.

Justin Jackson stretches to the basket (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson stretches to the basket (Todd Melet)

The final member of the Tar Heel freshman trio, Justin Jackson, has been rounding into form as well. Jackson says he’s taking a more aggressive mindset to the floor.

“For our team to win, we need everybody to step up, me included. These past couple games, I’ve tried to be more aggressive and make things happen. It’s worked out pretty well,” Jackson says.

Carolina leads the all-time series with Duke 133-106, but the Blue Devils have won the past two meetings.

Our pregame coverage on 97.9 FM, WCHL begins at 7 p.m. Saturday with a special one-hour edition of the UNC Healthcare Countdown to Tipoff presented by Stanley-Martin Homes hosted by Ron Stutts. Listeners can also tune in to our live stream right here on Chapelboro.com.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/stakes-are-high-for-duke-carolina-round-two/

Underdog Tar Heels Meet ‘Offensively Balanced’ Blue Devils At Cameron

The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team,18-7 overall and 8-4 in the ACC, travels down Tobacco road Wednesday night to renew its rivalry with No. 4 Duke, 22-3 on the season with a 9-3 mark in the league. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils will square off in iconic Cameron Indoor Stadium at 9 p.m.

***Listen to the story***

“This is the best game, and it’s the best game because you have two of the top five programs to ever play college basketball going against one another. We’re only eight miles apart and both great schools. There’s a level of excellence, individual and collective, in an area that has loved basketball,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski says.

This 239th installment of Carolina-Duke is once again ushered in by a rare ice storm, but unlike last year’s Snowmageddon that forced the Smith Center rivalry meeting to be called off, this season’s edition should go off without a hitch in sweaty and cramped Cameron.

Coach K (GoDuke.com)

Coach K (GoDuke.com)

The Cameron Crazies will be raring to go and ready to seek refuge from their Kville tents, where they’ve been spending weeks hunkered down in the cold for a chance to witness their red hot Devils down the reeling Tar Heels.

Mid-February is not a good time for UNC head coach Roy Williams to be searching for answers. But that’s exactly where the Hall of Famer finds himself with his squad.

“We did some things and yet, it wasn’t good enough. I think that’s part of the learning process too. We’ve probably shown this team more clips from games than we have any from the last three or four years at least. I think it’s still a part of the learning process with this group,” Coach Williams says.

JP Tokoto defends Duke's Quinn Cook (UNC Athletics)

JP Tokoto defends Duke’s Quinn Cook (UNC Athletics)

UNC junior forward Brice Johnson, who’s been coming off the bench lately, has been struggling to establish the consistency he envisioned for himself in 2015, but there’s no game he’d rather find his form than against Duke.

“I did watch it as a kid growing up. I was a Carolina fan growing up. I did watch quite a bit of the games. The one that really stuck out was the time Tyler [Hansbrough] got elbowed in the face here. That kind of set the tone that this game is really serious. I have to be ready for it. I can’t put it into words. It’s just an honor to be playing in this game,” Johnson says.

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige says a flood of memories comes rushing through his mind when he thinks of what the Carolina-Duke rivalry means to him.

“The one where Marvin Williams got the put back rings in my head. The thing I remember most is always the videos leading up to the game that show the tradition. They show Tyler Hansbrough getting elbowed in the face, [Eric] Montross with the bloody eye, Coach K screaming and the Duke players slapping the floor. Those stick with you,” Paige says.

Paige, though, has struggled to rekindle his fine form from the closing months of his sophomore campaign.

Humble and modest by nature, Paige will likely need to go against his instincts Wednesday night and become a bit selfish. Paige’s significant involvement in the UNC offense will need to be felt early and often for the Tar Heels to stay in the contest against an explosive Blue Devil squad averaging north of 80 points per outing.

Despite the intensity and passion present in the rivalry, Paige says there’s plenty of respect on both sides.

“I think that’s what makes this rivalry so special is the mutual respect. Obviously, I’m not a huge Duke fan. I don’t love them, but I really respect them. I think that’s the common theme in the rivalry. They respect us and we respect them. It’s good for the entire area,” Paige says.

Marcus Paige on the drive (Nick Vitali)

Marcus Paige on the drive (Nick Vitali)

And that level of respect could be in full display in this game. To honor Dean Smith’s passing, there are expected to be hundreds of Duke-colored T-shirts floating around Cameron with the word DEAN replacing the usual DUKE – the ultimate sign of respect from Coach Smith’s fiercest rivals.

“The students at Cameron are off the charts, but I’ve never had anything that they said or did that bothered me. They just cheer like crazy for their team. I’d like to see one of those shirts. I think that says two things – the respect Coach Smith had everywhere and the other thing is that this is a big-time rivalry, but it doesn’t have to be hatred,” Coach Williams says.

But make no mistake, there will be a winner and a loser determined with the eyes of the college basketball world fixed on Durham.

Jahlil Okafor with the slam dunk (SFgate.com)

Jahlil Okafor with the slam dunk (SFgate.com)

Coach Williams knows the daunting task awaiting Carolina. He’s full of praise for Coach K’s offense and especially, the favorite for the No. 1 NBA Draft pick, freshman sensation Jahlil Okafor.

“He’s a load, but he’s very gifted. He’s got great feet, great hands, turns to either shoulder and has touch when he turns. You have to make some allowances for him. Offensively, they have the best balance of any team in college basketball,” Coach Williams says.

Carolina leads the all-time series with Duke, 133-105, but dropped the last meeting, 93-81, on the road.

With emotions sure to be riding high, the team that can best channel those emotions and stay under control in the opening ten minutes of play is always something to watch out for.

In addition, Duke has always been a free-shooting team, possessing the ability to go on quick 9-0 runs, often times stunning its opponents into submission. If, well should we say when this happens Wednesday night, how will UNC respond?

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/underdog-tar-heels-meet-offensively-balanced-blue-devils-cameron/

UNC-Duke: On Point

THE BUILD-UP

January 10, 2015 – Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC–Trailing by one point with just 14 seconds to play in a crucial ACC home game against then fifth-ranked Louisville, North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige darts from the left wing to the top of the three-point line, where he receives a pass from Nate Britt. Center Kennedy Meeks sets a pick on Paige’s man, leaving a huge gap on the left side of the floor for the lefty to attack Cardinals 6’10” forward Chinanu Onuaku. Showing extreme confidence, UNC’s leader drives towards the hoop, cradles the ball, and lets go of a silky, smooth scoop shot high off the glass. It banks in perfectly, creating a deafening roar from the crowd. Louisville’s Terry Rozier takes one final chance at the buzzer, hoping to add to his 25 point tally, but falls short, giving the Tar Heels their signature win of the season to date, 72-71.

Marcus Paige has experience against the Blue Devils, including a win last year. (Photo Courtesy ESPN)

Marcus Paige has experience against the Blue Devils, including a win last year. (Photo Courtesy ESPN)

January 31, 2015 – John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA—Facing intense scrutiny after the first player dismissal (Rasheed Sulaimon) in Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 35 year tenure at Duke, the Blue Devils trail the second-ranked, undefeated Virginia Cavaliers by eight points  on the road, with only a shade under five minutes on the clock. Things appear bleak for the boys from Durham, as they’ll surely pick up their second consecutive loss, but wait, not so fast! BANG, BANG, BANG! The Blue Devils nail a trio of three-pointers (and a layup from Justise Winslow that ties the affair), with the third long ball, coming from senior Quinn Cook, giving Duke a three point lead as time dwindles away. Holding that same lead with 17 seconds to play, but only nine on the shot clock (Virginia guaranteed a shot at a rebound, and the ball back), freshman point guard Tyus Jones, with ice in his veins, dribbles to the right wing, hesitates, and fires a three right in the face of Cavalier guard London Perrantes. Swish. Dagger. Blue Devils win 69-63 (and they haven’t lost since.)

THINGS YOU SHOULD (ALREADY) KNOW

The greatest rivalry in all of sports will resume on Wednesday night at (arguably) the greatest venue in all of sports (Cameron Indoor Stadium) as Duke and UNC will face-off for the 239th time.

Tyus Jones talks with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a former point guard himself. (The Herald-Sun)

Tyus Jones talks with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a former point guard himself. (The Herald-Sun)

Each school boasts a basketball program among the most prestigious and successful of all time, and a legendary coach with “larger than life” status (the late, great Dean Smith and his royal blue counterpart, Coach K.)

There’s also their combined 10 NCAA Championships, 33 Final Fours, and 19 National Players of the Year.

College legends like Christian Laettner and Tyler Hansbrough have patrolled the paint in this game. And throughout this week, plenty of hype will focus on the battle down low, with Duke’s likely top NBA draft pick, freshman center Jahlil Okafor (18 PPG, 9 RPG) squaring off with the Tar Heels’ formidable frontline of Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks (combined 25 PPG, 16 RPG).

KEY TO THE GAME

With all due respect to the great big men that will play in, and have played in this game, it’s the little guys, the point guards, who often define what happens on the court between these two great rivals. Somebody has to pass the ball to those big fellas right?

This year’s edition will feature the experienced preseason All-American, Paige, against the five-star freshman, Jones, who plays well beyond his years.

Both are big-time players that step up in big-time moments, as evidenced in recent performances against Louisville and Virginia.

Both can pass the ball and set up teammates just as well as they can shoot and score. Paige puts up 14 points and four assists per game, while shooting 38% from distance and 82% from the foul line. Jones pours in 11 points and dishes five assists a night, drilling 40% of his threes and making 87% at the charity stripe.

Both wear number five. You get the point.

HISTORICAL EVIDENCE

In the past, it’s been matchups like Chris Duhon and Raymond Felton, back in 2004, that have determined the outcome. Duhon’s late reverse lay-up in overtime sealed a win for Duke at the Dean Dome, and his exceptional defense on Felton, then a sophomore and the ACC leader in assists, in both games led to a clean 2-0 sweep of the games that year for the Blue Devils.

Chris Duhon's "signature" moment at Duke. (GoDuke.com)

Chris Duhon’s “signature” moment at Duke. (GoDuke.com)

On the flip-side, point guard mismatches such as Carolina’s bolt of lightning, Ty Lawson (one of the fastest players to ever set foot in Chapel Hill) asserting his will over Duke’s not very quick (to be nice) Greg Paulus from 2007-2009 without much resistance, have also drawn the line between winner and loser. Lawson consistently left his mark on those contests, and not surprisingly the Tar Heels won every game he played in against Duke. The only time a Paulus-led team beat Lawson’s Heels was in February of ’08 at UNC, when Lawson sat out with an ankle injury. Paulus drained six three-pointers that night.

Ty Lawson always enjoyed playing Greg Paulus. (Photo Courtesy Zimbio.com)

Ty Lawson always enjoyed playing Greg Paulus. (Photo Courtesy Zimbio.com)

Eventually, you find that the names of great floor generals who played in this game become too many to list them all.

Jason Williams. Phil Ford. Bobby Hurley. Ed Cota. Tommy Amaker. Kendall Marshall.

It goes on and on and on.

“BOLD” PREDICTIONS

Wednesday night, Marcus Paige and Tyus Jones will not only continue the best rivalry in all of sports (and no, that’s not arguable), they will each add their own chapter to a rich history of point guards that goes back multiple generations.

And if, in that electric environment of Cameron Indoor Stadium, the score is tied, and the clock is ticking, there’s a good bet the ball will find the hands of number five.

 

 

 

E-mail Avery at atrendel@wchl.com or follow on Twitter: @averytrendel

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-duke-point/

Reeling Tar Heels Usher In Duke Week Licking Wounds

One of the most storied and intense rivalries in all of sports will be renewed Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. We’re just two days away from the 239th installment of Carolina-Duke and this season, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are trending in different directions.

***Listen to the story***

“There was a lot different said in the Louisville game than there was in this game. It was a lot different in the Virginia game and Boston College game. It’s not necessarily one theme that keeps recurring, so I don’t know,” UNC junior guard Marcus Paige says.

Coach Williams addresses Paige (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams addresses Paige (Todd Melet)

Paige’s reeling Tar Heels are searching for answers. And that’s bad timing with a pretty big game looming large midweek.

Carolina has now lost three of its last four. But at least in the latest setback at Pittsburgh, some consolation could be found in the lights-out shooting, 65 percent to be exact, by the opponent.

“They were so much more aggressive than us early and more positive. I think we had it tied a couple times, and then they went on a tremendous run again. Early in the second half, I thought it was still any man’s ballgame, and they made their first seven shots,” Coach Williams says. “Am I disappointed and upset? In several ways, yes. But I think you have to also understand Pittsburgh had a lot to do with the outcome of the game,”

Duke and Carolina battled it out for the first time on Jan. 24, 1920. The two hated rivals have met at least twice a year since then.

Many of those encounters have gone on to decide the eventual ACC champion.

Since the ACC’s founding in 1953, Duke and Carolina have combined to win or share 48 ACC regular season titles, that’s 78.7 percent of the total, and 36 tournament titles, 59 percent of the total, including 14 of the last 18.

The Cameron Crazies love their Coach (Duke Photography)

The Cameron Crazies love their Coach (Duke Photography)

But this year, both schools are playing the role of chasers in the conference standings, looking up at one-loss Virginia. But for surging Duke, that gap is closing. Carolina, meanwhile, appears to be fading back into the pack.

A frustrated Coach Williams says his Tar Heels were simply overwhelmed by the super sharp Panthers Saturday afternoon.

As for his counterpart wearing a tie with a darker shade of blue, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was a lot happier following his team’s win at the sold-out Carrier Dome.

“Our free throw shooting down at the end was just about perfect. Guys made big plays. I’m really pleased with the win. We beat a really good team – great crowd, great environment. I feel very fortunate we won,” Coach Krzyzewski says.

With a 22-3 record and a top five national ranking, Coach K certainly has plenty to be happy about it, but it’s likely his freshman sensation, Jahlil Okafor, who puts the biggest smile on the Hall of Famer’s face.

Widely projected to be the No. 1 draft pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Okafor says he credits his teammates for setting him up in the paint, a place the sturdy freshman feels right at home.

“Throughout the whole second half my teammates kept finding me for easy buckets. They were giving me all the confidence in the world – a lot of credit to my teammates. They just kept finding me for easy baskets,” Okafor says.

The UNC defense will need to step up Wednesday night (Nick Vitali)

The UNC defense will need to step up Wednesday night (Nick Vitali)

Pitt, meanwhile, poured in buckets from everywhere over the weekend, but some of that had to do with UNC’s poor defense.

With Duke next on tap, always one of the best shooting teams in the nation, Coach Williams knows his players will need tighten up defensively and get more hands in the faces of long-range shooters.

“What you can do is guard them better. I really believe the better you guard them, the less likely they’ll shoot 65 percent for the game,” Coach Williams says.

Carolina enters this year’s Battle of the Blues as a clear underdog, but that might be an advantageous position for the Tar Heels. An old cliché often rings true – in rivalry games, you can throw out the rankings and the stat sheets.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/reeling-tar-heels-usher-duke-week-licking-wounds/

Five Reasons Behind Roy’s Hate for State

For Roy Williams, the pain probably started not long after the buzzer sounded last Saturday afternoon.  Marcus Paige had just nailed a gutsy left-handed scoop shot with eight seconds to play to knock off  fourth- ranked Louisville when all of a sudden, in a phenomenon that occurs twice each year, his head coach felt a sharp, burning sensation in his gut.  Roy said nothing after the game, keeping all complaints to himself, but I knew what was wrong.

For the four nights after the big win, I had a hunch that Coach Williams would not be able to eat.

He’s mentioned the condition before. In 2008, after Tyler Hansbrough and the Tar Heels crushed the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill, Roy told the media that he’d “rather not eat than lose to NC State,” and that he informed Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, and the rest of his team that “they weren’t eating postgame unless they beat NC State.”

In this year’s first meet-up between the long-time rivals Wednesday night, Marcus Paige gave coach Williams his 23rd victory in 25 tries since taking the job at North Carolina, with a masterful performance – scoring 23 points, dishing out nine assists and also failing to record a single turnover.

For Roy, it must have also felt like Paige fed him a win with an extra side of chili-cheese fries, because you know he was hungry for this one.

Marcus Paige helped his coach's appetite return with his play Wednesday (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige helped his coach’s appetite return with his play Wednesday (Todd Melet)

That’s why I feel safe saying that it was Roy Williams’ stomach that was actually the most relieved Tar Heel inside PNC Arena when State’s freshman forward Cody Martin missed long on his tip-in attempt that would have sent the game to overtime, giving the Heels an 81-79 victory in rival territory.

For the majority of Carolina fans, Duke is seen as UNC’s most hated rival, and the games between the two schools are some of the most intense in all of sports (professional or college). State basketball is often dismissed and treated like the red-headed stepchild, with the main insult being that it’s not even a “true rivalry” anymore due to the Tar Heels’ 31-6 record against the Pack since Dean Smith retired.

Roy Williams isn’t the majority of fans. He has no problem showing that emotion-filled “H-word” for the team in Raleigh. That isn’t a mystery. The mystery is why? When that strong emotional energy could be put towards Coach K’s Durham Empire, what could possibly fuel all this hate for State?

Roy Williams possibly expressing his feelings about NC State to his bench. (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams possibly expressing his feelings about NC State to his bench. (Todd Melet)

I decided it was necessary to bring out my magnifying glass, and go searching for answers. During my quest, I was led to five possible reasons that Roy’s stomach churns at the sight of the color red.

Let’s take a look at the findings of the investigation, which we can call the “Roy-State Report.”

  1. Bullying- There was a time in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that NC State, led by coach Norm Sloan and star David Thompson, actually mattered on the national scene. They won three ACC championships, a national title in 1974, and had a nine game win streak against Carolina. Roy, a member of UNC’s class of ’72, recalled what it was like having friends at State during his college days when he told the media before their game against the Wolfpack in January 2012 that “…. I was a freshman in college and some old high school buddies that I had played baseball and basketball with were over at State and they gave me enough crap for the rest of my life. I didn’t appreciate it and I didn’t like it. So I’ve always had the feeling that this is an important game…”
  2. He Sees the Future- If you missed the game Wednesday or haven’t started watching college basketball yet this season, it’s my job to break the news that NC State is young, talented, athletic, and on the rise. Leading scorer Trevor Lacey is a junior expected to return next year, and guard Ralston Turner is the only senior on the team that plays at least ten minutes per game. The rest of the rotation consists of freshmen and sophomores all expected to make big improvements under head coach Mark Gottfried. They’ve also beaten Duke twice in the past two years. Roy may just want the fans to recognize this and start hating accordingly.

    Coach Mark Gottfried looks to return NC State to its glory days (Todd Melet)

    Coach Mark Gottfried looks to return NC State to its glory days (Todd Melet)

  3. Bricks- The University of North Carolina was the first public university in the United States. This is common knowledge around Chapel Hill. The brick pathways around campus have long been associated with the school, famous among students for their many uneven “potholes” that trip anyone not watching their step. It’s my amateur theory that NC State, during its construction, loved the idea of UNC’s bricks so much that they stole it and extended it to their entire campus, making everything they could out of red and white bricks.  The result was, in my personal opinion, one of the uglier college campuses in America, which could at least explain why Roy would hate going there.
  4. The Kool-Aid Man- No State fan will ever forget that bright red blazer. Former Wolfpack head coach Sidney Lowe finished his career in Raleigh just 1-10 against the Tar Heels but it was the fashion statement he made in the Pack’s February 2007 home victory against UNC that caught the eye of many. It started as a tribute to Jim Valvano, but when NC State scored a huge upset over a heavily favored Carolina team, the jacket took on a life of its own, with Lowe continuing to wear it during his team’s big games. Roy had to have been furious losing to a coach with an outfit that resembled the Kool-Aid man, with the memory strong enough to motivate himself into never losing to Lowe again.
  5.  The Color- Growing up in North Carolina means that for as long as he has been alive, Roy Williams has associated the color red with NC State University. It also means that in a predominantly Christian state, Roy learned that God painted the sky Carolina Blue and that Satan himself was colored red. In coming to UNC, it may have been tough for Roy to be brainwashed into believing that devils are, in fact, Duke blue.

 

Although it can be easily argued that the “Roy-State Report” findings were somewhat inconclusive, they should at least help to answer why Wanda Williams, Roy’s wife, will most likely only need to cook dinner for one next month during the week of February 24th, when the Wolfpack return to Chapel Hill.

Those pains will be back, and again, it could be up to Marcus Paige to feed his coach.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/five-reasons-behind-roys-hate-state/

Kobe Bryant Reveals Tar Heel Leanings

Photo courtesy of ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES – Sorry, Dookies. It looks like NBA legend Kobe Bryant is a Tar Heel after all.

It was widely believed that, had Bryant chosen to play college ball instead of leaping from high school straight into the NBA, that he would have made the trip down to Durham rather than Chapel Hill.

But in a pleasant surprise, Bryant said in a conversation with talk show host Jimmy Kimmel that he would have been donning Carolina Blue in his college years.

Although he says he has a close relationship with Duke Coach and US basketball head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, he admits that he was leaning towards playing for recently-named Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Dean Smith.

In fact, Bryant says he cherishes the recruitment letter he received from Carolina’s priceless gem, Smith, all those years ago, and he has it tucked away as a special memento.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/national-sports/kobe-bryant-reveals-tar-heel-leanings/

King Of Coaches

The “K” in Mike Krzyzewski‘s nickname could also stand for “King.”
 
The Duke basketball coach has climbed to the top of his own personal and professional mountain as the highest-paid employee at his university and, metaphorically, overseeing his empire on the top floor of the six-story tower that sits next to Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Coach K at the Olympics
  • Most wins of any major college men’s coach.
  • Four NCAA championships and numerous other ACC titles.
  • Two Gold Medals as coach of the USA Basketball Dream Team.

 
Entering his 33rd season as coach of the Blue Devils, there are now calls for a higher calling for Coach King. Former Duke Coach Bucky Waters says he has accomplished all he needs to on the bench and should go to Washington to provide the kind of leadership he has demonstrated throughout most of his career.
 
If not Washington, then certainly to the NCAA, which does not have separate “commissioners” for football and basketball. If it did, Krzyzewski would be the perfect candidate to lead his sport – help rewrite the rules book, negotiate the age limits imposed by the NBA and generally bring order to a billion-dollar sport that has been rocked by recruiting chaos and off-court scandals.
 
It may look easy for Coach K these days, with private Duke, USA Basketball and his own corporation funding an entourage of assistants and staff members to meet every need of Krzyzewski and his extended family. Whatever shade of blue your blood runs and whatever you think of the man, he has overcome tough times to lead what appears to be a charmed life.
 
He began at Duke in 1980 as a no-name third banana to Dean Smith and the flamboyant Jim Valvano at N.C. State. Both men won national championships before Krzyzewski fashioned a winning season with the players he recruited. A group of prominent alumni calling itself the “Concerned Iron Dukes” lobbied for his dismissal, convinced he was the wrong choice to recapture Duke’s glory days of the 1960s.
 
He was not chased out of town by Carolina’s preeminence, like so many other coaches at Duke and State. In fact, Krzyzewski used his training as a West Point cadet and his service overseas to hunker down behind what he referred to as enemy lines. When his oldest daughter called from middle school to come get her because of teasing from other students and teachers, Coach K did go to the school – to bring her a Duke shirt and made her put it on. He went on to raise a family that’s every bit as tough as its leader.
 
Gutsy athletic Director Tom Butters, who hired Krzyzewski off a Bobby Knight recommendation, awarded a new contract to the head coach when the Iron Dukes wanted his head. Right on cue, Duke began winning and went on a dominating run of reaching seven Final Fours in a nine year span between 1986 and ’94, including back-to-back national championships in 1991 and ‘92.
 
The man who began at Duke earning $48,000 and buying cheap suits off the rack while living in a modest home in northern Durham was seemingly set for life, electing to stay at Duke after turning down the first of many NBA offers. But that life was to begin again over the next few years.
 
It started with a debilitating lower back injury, from which he came back too quickly after surgery, and missed most of the 1995 season when his Duke program crashed and burned deep in the ACC standings. He returned in 1996, but by then Dean Smith had regained his place as the king of coaches, taking four teams to the Final Four in the 1990s and winning his second national championship in 1993. Even after Smith retired in October of 1997, Duke had yet to regain its full measure of prominence.
 
Much of that was Krzyzewski still coaching in pain. You could see it on his face, as he grimaced through games, standing up, sitting down, squatting in front of his players and, occasionally, barking at a referee. After taking an undefeated 1999 ACC team back to the Final Four, Coach K was apparently so numbed by pain-killing medication on the bench that he could not keep his players from letting the game slip away to UConn.
 
The back eventually healed but not before two hip replacements corrected his gait that was affecting other parts of his now 50-year-old body. Fighting back to good health, he led Duke to a third national championship in 2001 and nearly won a fourth before that lead slipped away – again to UConn – in the 2004 semifinals. Krzyzewski and Duke watched Roy Williams and Carolina win two NCAA titles before Coach K got his fourth with an overachieving team that capitalized on a great draw and beat Cinderella Butler on the last play of the 2010 Dance.
 
By then, Krzyzewski was already an international figure, having taken over as America’s coach in 2006 and won our first Gold Medal since 2000 by convincing a bunch of NBA millionaires to play as a team in Beijing in 2008. USA Basketball had been in shambles, thanks to so many ladles in the soup when former UNC star and iconic coach Larry Brown had to replace nine players just before the 2004 Games in Athens and settled for the Bronze medal amid much embarrassment.
 
Asked by USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo to stay on through the 2012 Olympics in London, Krzyzewski did so and maneuvered a talented but undersized NBA all-star team through improving international competition to win yet another Gold.
 
Now, at 65, he’s back at Duke trying to build one more national champion that would move him into second place behind only the legendary John Wooden (10) of UCLA. The Blue Devils may not be good enough before Coach K retires or moves on to Washington or to lead NCAA basketball, but overcoming a tough start and a physical breakdown has made what seems like a charmed life more of a sustained, successful and satisfying journey for the new King of Coaches.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/sports-notebook/king-of-coaches/

LaLa Land Opus

LOS ANGELES — Despite 3,000 miles between us and seemingly 3 million people swarming this city, there were signs of home everywhere.  

Mitch Kupchak, the former UNC star (1976 ACC Player of the Year) and current general manager of the LA Lakers, is under fire for doing nothing about a franchise in turmoil and is rumored to be quitting or retiring after this season.

But what can he do?

The team that won back-to-back NBA championships in 2009 and 2010 under Phil Jackson has a new coach (LeBron’s old coach in Cleveland, Mike Brown) and is being run by owner Jerry Buss’ two sons and one daughter, and all together, they have attained the dreadful dysfunctional label.  

Kobe is unhappy, and it goes far beyond his impending mega multi-million dollar divorce.  Before the strike-shortened season began, he thought he had a new point guard, ex-Wake Forest star Chris Paul, who played his first four seasons in New Orleans.  But NBA Commissioner David Stern nixed the trade for reasons still not fully explained. Apparently, the Lakers would have been too good with perennial NBA All-Star Paul at the point.  

So what happened?  Paul winds up being traded to LA’s stepchild franchise, the Clippers, who play in the same Staples Center before a common-man crowd, compared to the show-time stars and starlets who arrive late and leave early to be seen at Laker games.  

I watched the Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night behind 36 points from Paul and 27 from high-flying center Blake Griffin.  

(If you want to play the Kevin Bacon game, Griffin was the Oklahoma All-American who lost his last college game in the 2009 Elite Eight to the Tar Heels, who went on to win the NCAA Championship. That Oklahoma team was coached by Jeff Capel, the former Dukie, whose brother Jason played for UNC and now coaches Appalachian State.  Jeff has since been fired at Oklahoma and is now back on the Duke Bench as one of the 7 or so suits who flank Mike Krzyzewski.)

The Nuggets are coached by Carolina favorite George Karl, who, at 60, has just finished his second gruesome battle with neck and throat cancer. He is looking comparatively svelte, coaching a no-name but talented team that runs, runs and runs (and lately loses) most of its games. UNC’s Ty Lawson, Karl’s bullet point guard, missed the Clippers loss with a sprained ankle.  

“We’re playing well, but the losing is killing me,” Karl said before the Clippers game. Relatively speaking; when you’ve beaten the Big C twice, the W’s aren’t quite as important in the grand scheme.  

Karl will be remembered by old-time Tar Heels as the pepperpot point guard who led Dean Smith’s star-studded 1972 team to the Final Four right here before losing to Florida State, which had yet to join the ACC.  

The Clippers and Lakers are separated by one game in their NBA division and waging a “city series” not unlike close-proximity college or high-school rivals. They have become the biggest games in town, both teams selling out the Staples Center nearly every time they play.  

Meanwhile, college basketball here has been moved to the back page or below the fold.  

UCLA, which once dominated the collegiate game and Southern California sports, has struggled with a lineup that has Tar Heel defectors David and Travis Wear and Larry Drew II.  The Bruins, who had a great run of Final Four appearances a few years ago, are in jeopardy of not making the NCAA tournament this season.

Ironically, their best chance is to win the Pac-12 tournament in early March that will be played in the Staples Center on one of the rare weekends when Kupchak, Kobe, the Lakers; Paul, Griffin, and the Clippers, will all be out of town.   

(Editor’s Note: This column was dictated to Hollywood stuntman Alex Chansky, the author’s nephew, because the author broke his computer and does not know how to use one of these high-falutin’ Macs!)

http://chapelboro.com/columns/sports-notebook/lala-land-opus/