Redick, Rivers, Johnson Make Trip To Duke-North Carolina
DURHAM, N.C. – Five years ago, Austin Rivers went down in Duke lore, sinking a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer to stun North Carolina, snapping the Tar Heels’ record 31-game home winning streak.
A decade earlier, J.J. Redick began what would become one of the greatest college basketball careers ever, leaving Duke as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
The former Blue Devils, now both Clippers teammates, traveled Thursday night down to Durham to watch Duke beat North Carolina in person, 86-78.
“It’s fun to come back here, especially a day like today – this is one of the biggest rivalries in sports,” Rivers said. “Lot of bad blood. It’s the best of the best in college basketball. Half these kids will be in the NBA one day. Hall of Fame coaches, just to see them compete is fun.”
Much to the chagrin of Clippers rookie and former North Carolina forward Brice Johnson, who was on the other side of the building in the North Carolina section supporting his Tar Heels, it was even more fun for Rivers and Redick to leave with a win.
The number of Clippers’ ties to the game runs deep. There’s Redick, Rivers and Johnson. There’s assistant coach Patrick Sullivan, who played in three NCAA Final Fours at North Carolina and coached at the school as an assistant.
There’s also Raymond Felton, who played against Redick as a member of the Tar Heels. He wasn’t able to make Thursday’s reunion, as the South Carolina native went to see family, showing up at his nephew’s senior night as a surprise.
Redick said as soon as he got to the NBA 11 years ago, he’d cross-reference his pro team’s schedule with the NCAA schedule to see any opportunities to catch a Duke game.
Usually, he’s out of luck. This year was an exception.
The Clippers left a snowstorm in New York and landed in Charlotte in the late afternoon Thursday. Redick and Rivers then immediately booked it for Durham. For Redick, it was the first time in seven years the NBA schedule aligned to where he could go to a Duke game.
“It just so happens it’s Duke-UNC,” Redick said. “So, I’m very lucky this year.”
The video scoreboard is new at Cameron Indoor Stadium. So, too, are two of the national championship banners. Other than that, Redick didn’t notice much of a change in the atmosphere from when he was playing.
“It’s as good as it’s ever been,” Redick said.
Particularly when North Carolina’s in town.
“Literally, it’s all anyone talks about in this state for the entire year,” Redick said. “I can’t go anywhere in this state without hearing something about UNC or Tyler Hansbrough.”
Despite Hansbrough foiling Redick’s Senior Night in a North Carolina win 11 years ago, Redick will always remember the grandeur and buildup of four years of matchups against the Tar Heels. There’s a special sort of intimacy at Cameron Indoor, an arena built for fewer than 10,000 fans, with the sounds of the student section and the deafening cheers reverberating from one side of the court to the other.
Every fan feels within arm distance of the players of the court, so much so that Redick said if he were still playing, the last person in the last row of the arena could’ve seen the black eye he was sporting from an elbow he took two games prior.
“Whether it’s a Duke-UNC game or I come in here and Cameron’s empty, it’s always an emotional experience to come back to a place I have so many memories,” Redick said.
While he wishes he would’ve left with a national title, his jersey hanging above him in the rafters shows how much the former national player of the year will always mean to the program.
Redick will forever be remembered at Duke for the records he set, while Rivers, who only played one season before going pro, will forever have a place in his school’s history for one moment in particular.
“I hit the shot,” Rivers said. “Everybody brings it up. Every time I come here, everybody’s always asking, ‘Are we going to get another game like that tonight?”
Luckily for Duke fans, Thursday night didn’t require stressing until the final second, as Grayson Allen’s 3-pointer put the Blue Devils ahead by a comfortable five points with just over a minute remaining. Redick, whose family also attended the game, and Rivers both stayed until the end, celebrating and taking pictures with the Duke faithful.
“It’s always good to see old faces, people who helped me along the way,” Rivers said.
For Johnson, the result was more somber, but the experience was one he couldn’t miss. After playing in the rivalry game as recently as last year, he said it might’ve been even crazier to see it from the stands for the first time.
When Johnson thinks back to where Duke-North Carolina games rank for him in terms of college sports memories, they’re right at the top, behind only the Final Four.
“Can’t really describe it,” Johnson said. “It’s insane. It’s an entire week, from Monday to the game, it’s crazy…We respect each other as players, but when it’s time to come on the court, we hate each other.”
With two former Duke players now teammates, though, that hate has to dissipate. For his former teammates still at North Carolina, though, it remains as prevalent as ever.
As the Tar Heels went to the locker room following the loss, Johnson left them with a hopeful message.
After all, when March 4 hits, the craziness of Duke-North Carolina begins again, this time back at Johnson’s old stomping grounds.
“I told them, ‘It’s all right, long season,’” Johnson said. “Couple more games, they’ll get them again.”