Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina

Rivalry Fueled Tar Heel Recruitments

No. 5 North Carolina and No. 20 Duke tip off at the Smith Center at 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina-Duke is among the elite rivalries in all of sports. It’s a must-see event, where viewers from across the globe tune in to watch two schools linked by eight miles and copious amounts of success battle for Tobacco Road supremacy.

It’s also a factor in drawing the eyes of young basketball players to Chapel Hill and Durham.

“I think recruits want to play in high-level games, and this is the highest-level game you could get,” UNC senior guard Marcus Paige said on Tuesday. “It probably does have a little bit of an impact.”

Paige grew up a Tar Heel fan despite living outside of North Carolina until enrolling in 2012. The rivalry was a regular part of his childhood, with one moment, one of the loudest in Smith Center history, sticking out among others.

“There’s a poster of it in there, the game with Marvin Williams, where UNC came back and Marvin hit that floater for the win,” Paige said.

Paige wasn’t the only Tar Heel starter to grow up a Carolina fan. Senior forward Brice Johnson also cheered for UNC during his youth in Orangeburg, S.C.

“In high school, it definitely was a big part of my recruitment, just because I was a Carolina fan growing up, and I did watch the games a lot,” Johnson said. “I’ve always wanted to play in this game. I never thought I’d end up playing here in it.”  

Sophomore guard Joel Berry, a product of Apopka, Fla., also paid close attention to the rivalry before arriving in Chapel Hill.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of it, because I’ve always been a Tar Heel fan,” Berry said. “My mom and me watched them all the time.”

Not every current player was emotionally invested in the UNC-Duke game growing up, though. It took a visit on Feb. 21, 2014 - after Justin Jackson had already committed to UNC - for the Texan to fully grasp the intensity of this feud.

“It was whenever Jabari (Parker) and Rodney (Hood) were here and this place was electric,” Jackson said. “That was whenever I realized that it’s definitely a blessing to come here, because the floor was shaking and the fans were going crazy.”

This is a UNC group that hasn’t had much luck against Duke, dropping three straight to the Blue Devils dating back to 2014 and 10 of the last 13 meetings.

“Even though we haven’t won that many, it still has lived up to the hype,” Johnson said. “It should be electric in here and I just can’t wait to do it.”

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