Dukies Return to Historic Dean Dome to Tip off Preseason

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The Boston Celtics are on Tobacco Road to play their first preseason game tonight against the Charlotte Hornets at the famous Dean Smith Center, widely known as the Dean Dome, on the campus of the University of North Carolina.

That fact is rubbing some of the Celtics better than others.

This area of the country is known most for its deep-rooted rivalry between the basketball programs at UNC and Duke University, whose campuses are situated less than 10 miles away from each other in central North Carolina. The rivalry forever remains in the blood of anyone who has ever participated in it.

As Kyrie Irving said Friday morning, “Once a Blue Devil, always a Blue Devil.”

But you didn’t need to hear him make that statement to know it was true.

Irving and teammate Jayson Tatum, each of whom attended one year of school at Duke, showed up to Boston’s morning shootaround Friday morning proudly donning Duke basketball gear. This came just hours after they had traveled Thursday night to Duke to have dinner with the Blue Devils basketball team.

Both players are clearly proud of where they come from, and they wanted everyone who saw them on the UNC campus to know about it. That being said, they both made it be known that they still hold the Tar Heels program in high regard.

“Obviously there’s a great rivalry between Duke and UNC, but there’s an incredible respect between both universities because of what we’ve accomplished over time,” said Irving. “Being so close in mileage and then being so enriched with tradition, it’s awesome. So nothing but respect, but obviously, if you go to Duke, you represent Duke. If you go to UNC, you represent UNC.”

Tatum, too, acknowledged UNC’s tradition, which features six national championships and the launching point for Michael Jordan’s illustrious basketball career.

“It’s a real special place, I’m not going to lie,” said Tatum, who also noted that he nearly attended UNC to play for coach Roy Williams. “They have a lot of history here. A lot of national championships and great players who came through here.”

Irving was unable to play at the Dean Dome due to a toe injury that he suffered during his freshman season. He was forced to watch the rivalry from the sideline. Tatum, meanwhile, played one game in the building and he remembers it well.

“The last time we played here we lost, but it’s cool,” he said. “Obviously when I played here it was to capacity and the gym was rocking, and it was cool. A great experience to be a part of that rivalry.”

Tatum and Irving would much rather be playing this game at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, but head coach Brad Stevens, who became famous during his collegiate coaching career at Butler, has no gripes.

Stevens is a historian of the game. He enjoys playing and practicing in new gyms around the country. Shockingly, though, he had never been inside the Dean Dome prior to Friday morning’s shootaround, which made him giddy to soak in the environment of one of college basketball’s most historic buildings.

“I think anytime you get a chance to play in one of these unbelievable college programs and in their building in a place where basketball really matters, I think that’s a fun thing for everybody,” he said prior to Boston’s shootaround. “I haven’t seen anything but the hallway yet, so I’m looking forward to getting out on the court and seeing the Dean Dome in person.”

Stevens went on to comment on the coaching history inside the building, highlighted by Dean Smith, for whom the building is named, and the current coach, Williams.

“Dean Smith is one of the most studied coaches in all of sports, and for all the right reasons,” he said. “And then obviously Roy and his run has been incredible.”

Much of that success has come against Duke, to the dismay of Irving and Tatum. Both players are yet to experience a win inside the historic Dean Dome. They plan on changing that tonight.