Revisiting The Rivalry

Bucks’ Dunleavy, Henson remember Duke vs. North Carolina battles (Part I of II)

The line in the sand was drawn in 1920.

Larry Brown and Art Heyman crossed it with their fists flying on Feb. 4, 1961.

And now, 93 years since it all began, the basketball rivalry between the University of North Carolina and Duke University is deemed by many the most intense one in all of sports.

The two programs, whose home bases of Chapel Hill and Durham are separated by just 10 miles of U.S. Highway 15-501 in North Carolina, have combined to win or share 47 Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles and 36 ACC Tournament titles since the conference was formed in 1953.

They have captured a combined eight national championships over the last 30 years, and in the past 14 years, one of the two teams has been the AP preseason top-ranked team in the country seven times. North Carolina is No. 2 on the list of all-time winners in Division I men's basketball and Duke is No. 4.


Click for photos of John at UNC

North Carolina leads the teams’ all-time series 132-102, but it has been closer in recent history. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in college basketball history, is 37-37 against UNC while Roy Williams is 9-10 against Duke as coach at North Carolina.

Two of the central characters in the vaunted rivalry’s last dozen years are now situated even closer together than their respective schools. Mike Dunleavy Jr., who played at Duke from 1999-2002, and John Henson, who competed for North Carolina from 2009-2012, have side-by-side lockers in the Milwaukee Bucks’ locker room at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Dunleavy and Henson will no doubt agree to disagree when their Blue Devils and Tar Heels lock horns, but they are mutually grateful to have played for their college programs and experienced success against their arch-rivals.

Dunleavy, the son of former Bucks player, coach and vice president of basketball operations Mike Dunleavy Sr., began his prep hoops career at University School of Milwaukee before moving with his family to Portland, growing nine inches to 6-9 and developing into a McDonald’s All-American at Jesuit High School.

He remembers his recruiting visit to Duke.

Click for photos of Mike at Duke

“I went for an official visit in the fall,” Dunleavy said. “I visited a few different schools and that was one of them. I enjoyed myself and had a good time. I got to know the players, the staff and the campus. Obviously it was a good enough visit that I wanted to go there.

“Ultimately I felt real comfortable with ‘Coach K.’ I thought he was a great coach and somebody I wanted to play for. At the end of the day, that was the difference.”

By then, Dunleavy and the rest of the country had become familiar with a Duke campus ritual.

Tickets to all varsity sports events are free, but students line up for hours to get them. The most obsessed basketball fans, the “Cameron Crazies,” pitch tents in a grassy area near Cameron Indoor Stadium commonly known as Krzyzewskiville. For a February game against UNC, tents pop up before spring classes start.

Dunleavy made an immediate impact with the Blue Devils, averaging 9.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. His most memorable freshman moment came Feb. 3, 2000, during his first game against North Carolina at the “Dean Dome,” nicknamed after legendary former UNC coach Dean Smith.

Dunleavy played 29 minutes and scored eight points – none bigger than the two free throws he sank with 6.7 seconds remaining to seal a 90-86 overtime victory.
The experience gave Dunleavy an eye-opening introduction to the “Tobacco Road Rivalry,” but he approached it with a bring-it-on attitude.

“I don’t remember ever not wanting to be in a position like that,” Dunleavy said. “But as a freshman coming from a high school where you’d get a few thousand fans a night to the Dean Dome with 20,000 fans there, with the game being all over ESPN, and with the Duke/North Carolina rivalry …being on the free-throw line with 10 seconds to go to put us up three or four points was a big step up from high school.

“I just stepped up there and tried to knock them down, just like in any other game. If you don’t think too much about it, you’re not going to have an issue.”

Playing alongside the likes of Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier and against such North Carolina rivals as Joseph Forte, Jason Capel, Brendan Haywood and Ronald Curry, Dunleavy experienced great success during his years in the rivalry. His Blue Devils went 7-1 against the Tar Heels.

He learned quickly that Carolina week was different from others on the Duke campus.

“Everybody is just on edge and a little more alert,” Dunleavy said. “The vibe is different. You had to learn how to deal with that.”

Another pinnacle of Dunleavy’s Duke years came March 11, 2002, when he collected game highs of 24 points and 13 rebounds in leading Duke to a 79-53 triumph over UNC in the ACC Tournament title game before a crowd of 40.083.

“We had a pretty good run against them when I was there. What it really came down to is that people around the area couldn’t give you a hard time if you won against Carolina.”

As big as that victory was, it was a stepping stone for the Blue Devils.

“Anytime we beat them was great, but we were on our way to winning the national title, so that was a great moment,” Dunleavy said.

Duke was clinging to a tenuous 39-37 lead early in the second half of the April 2, 2001 national championship game against the University of Arizona at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., when Dunleavy took center stage.

The sophomore forward knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers to trigger an 11-2 run by the Blue Devils. He later sank back-to-back baskets to give his team a 54-48 lead with 12 minutes, 58 seconds to play. He scored 18 of his team-high 21 points in the second half to help his team to an 82-72 triumph, its 35th victory of the season against just four losses and the program’s third national title.

“I think first and foremost of those memories was winning,” Dunleavy said. “To come out of there on top was great. You’re not going to have a bigger thrill than that. It was a special time for our school and our team. It was something I’ll never forget.”

Dunleavy obviously wasn’t in Durham at the time of the title conquest, but he became familiar with the campus traditions that celebrated major conquests by the Blue Devils.

“I’m not sure if they’re still doing it, but when I was there, the tradition was there was a big party on ‘The Quad,’” Dunleavy said. “They had a bunch of wooden benches that the fraternities built every September to hang out on. The tradition was the burning of the benches. Every time Duke won a national title or beat Carolina, they had a huge bonfire and burned those benches.”

The burning benches signified the burning passion that fueled the fire of the Duke basketball program. The Blue Devils posted a 95-13 record and won three ACC regular-season championships and two ACC Tournament titles during the years Dunleavy wore No. 34.

“Duke has a great, passionate fan base,” Dunleavy said. “When I was there, it was pretty national. Now it’s become global.

“It’s just a great program to be a part of. The intensity and passion that exist with ‘Coach K’ and everyone on down is what makes it so special.”

Visit again soon for Part II of this series.