Revisiting The Rivalry
Henson remembers Duke vs. North Carolina battles (Part II 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.
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.
|Click for photos of Mike at Duke|
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.
Henson’s collegiate heyday came just down the road from where Dunleavy’s took place about a decade earlier.
Henson played the first three years of his prep career at Round Rock (Texas) High School before moving with his family to Tampa, Fla, where he attended Sickles High School. He averaged 17.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 6.1 blocks as a senior and, like Dunleavy, was named a McDonald’s All-American.
|Click for photos of John at UNC|
Henson shared another common trait with Dunleavy. He, too, had a growth spurt during his high school years, climbing 5 ½ inches during an 18-month span to 6-10 before later topping out at 6-11.
Henson, who was born in Greensboro, N.C., once told his father, Matt, that he would play basketball for North Carolina one day, and his words proved prophetic. He arrived at Chapel Hill at a spindly 186 pounds in 2009, but quickly proved that he belonged at the top tier of college hoops.
Henson’s first game ever at Cameron Indoor Stadium did not carry a happy ending for the Tar Heels, who lost to Duke 82-50 on March 6, 2010. But Henson responded admirably to the challenge, totaling team highs of 14 points and eight rebounds.
“Playing at Carolina really prepares you for the next level,” Henson said. “Coming in on day one, I didn’t play a lot. I had to earn my spot. That’s something you can’t take for granted. In my freshman year, I learned to work hard and fight and get my minutes.”
Henson averaged 11.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks as a sophomore. He totaled 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds as UNC defeated Duke 81-67 March 5, 2011, to earn the ACC regular-season championship.
Already a big man on campus, Henson became even bigger.
“I think the craziest thing was when we beat Duke for the ACC (regular-season) championship in my sophomore year, I was walking to class around campus and every time I walked by a car, someone would stop and say, ‘Hey, do you need a ride?’” Henson recalled. “I must have had at least 10 people ask me if I needed a ride that day.”
Henson grabbed a game-high 18 rebounds in the March 13, 2011 ACC Tournament championship game, but Duke emerged with a 75-58 victory to win the tournament for the third straight year.
|Click for photos of fans|
Henson averaged a double double of 13.4 points and 10.6 rebounds in conference play as junior. He snared 17 rebounds Feb. 8, 2012, in an 85-84 loss to Duke, then came up with 13 points and 10 boards as North Carolina won the rematch 88-70 March 3 at Durham and clinched its second consecutive ACC regular-season title.
Overall, Henson went 2-5 against Duke during the three seasons he wore No. 31 for the Tar Heels, but he enjoyed the electricity the rivalry generated.
“When Carolina plays Duke, the whole area shuts down,” Henson said. “If we win, our students rush Franklin Street. If Duke wins, theirs rush into their little area. I haven’t actually had the chance to see everybody rush out of their dorms and into the street, but I think it’s cool.
“The hype around the school was crazy. We have some diehard fans. I love the way they support the team.”
Henson was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012, and he was a first-team all-ACC, first-team all-ACC Defensive Team selection as a junior after leading the ACC in rebounding and shot-blocking.
He finished as UNC’s all-time leader in blocks per game with 2.56.
He experienced a fringe benefit – a legal one – during his three years in Chapel Hill. He took part in a longtime UNC tradition, participating in summer pickup games against UNC alumni who were playing in the National Basketball Association.
“Guys come back in the summer and you have a college five against their five,” Henson said. “You all just go at it. It’s fun when the guys come back and play. It’s a challenge to win, but it makes you better.
“I remember playing against Marvin Williams, Sean May, Raymond Felton and others when I was there. I and the other guys who got drafted last year (Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall) all used to play against guys like that. It was cool.”
Henson never got the opportunity to play against Michael Jordan, who no longer participates in the pickup games. But he has met the six-time NBA champion and 14-time NBA All-Star.
“I met him a few times, just a casual high-five,” Henson said of Jordan. “It was a thrill to meet him. It was surreal. They made a video on U-tube of him talking to some of the players. It was cool. The following he has is unbelievable.”
Henson plans to revisit Chapel Hill for those summer pickup games now that he is an NBA player, and he plans to offer some advice to the current Tar Heels who are aspiring to become pros.
“I look forward to going back there and playing against the college guys,” he said. “That’s one of the perks you have playing at a school like North Carolina.
“I would tell the young guys to keep working hard. If they’re blessed enough to be here some day, they have to keep working hard, working out and shooting. That’s what I’m doing now, especially when I’m not playing. I’m just staying ready. That will take you a long way in this business.”
Henson is already looking at the UNC/Duke rivalry a bit differently now than he did while he was at its forefront.
John’s sister, Amber, who developed into a three-time Parade All-American at Sickles High while John was at North Carolina, is currently a redshirt freshman at Duke, where she is recovering from knee surgery. One recruiting service ranked the 6-4 Amber fifth nationally in her high school class.
“Her college decision came down to Duke and North Carolina,” John said. “I think she chose the right place for her, unfortunately, but she’s having fun there and
’m happy for her. She’s anxious to get back.
“She started playing at a pretty young age. I would be playing, and she’d work out after me. It was cool. It’ll always be fun when Duke and Carolina go head-to-head. When she plays against Carolina, I’ll tell her, ‘Good luck,’ and I hope she does well.
“But I hope we win.”