‘Zion is a different bird’: Players bring the thrills to Duke-UNC rivalry

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The rivalry between Duke and North Carolina is one of the most special in all of sports.

That fact isn’t lost on any player, coach, or fan as the Tar Heels and Blue Devils prepare for their 248th all-time meeting Wednesday in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Tobacco Road rivalry has created classic matchups and moments. There have been high-scoring affairs like a 102-100 UNC double-overtime win on Feb. 2, 1995. There was Austin Rivers’ buzzer-beater 3-pointer to give Duke an 85-84 win on Feb. 8, 2012.

And, for as many one-possession games there have been, there have also been a handful of lopsided games.

“It’s incredibly unique, just the fact that you can have two of the four or five best programs in the history of the sport right here. The programs have produced championships, and excellence, and pros,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “It’s never really disappointed. They’re just great, great games. To be a part of that, as a player or coach, you should be honored.”

Krzyzewski and UNC coach Roy Williams have been the two mainstays through the last few decades of the rivalry.

“It’s a tremendous rivalry — two really great programs with great history, 10 miles apart, which makes it a little unusual,” Williams said. “For the last 25 or 30 years, it’s been the same. I’m flattered to be a part of it — a very small part of it but flattered to be involved in it. I don’t have to say too much to get our guys fired up.”

One of the top attractions in this Triangle rivalry has been the players involved. Watching UNC and Duke gives basketball fans a glimpse at a handful of players that will be featured in the NBA Draft come June. 

A source of much of the hype surrounding this year’s first of two Duke-UNC clashes surrounds freshman sensation Zion Williamson. The standout Blue Devil brings to a basketball court something few before him have. 

“Zion is a different bird. There’s no question about that,” Williams said. “We tried to recruit him very hard. He’s got a combination, a skillset, that I’ve never seen before. There’s a lot of attention, but he deserves it. He’s been pretty good. From that point, it may be a little bit more (hyped up), but it’s still Duke-North Carolina.”

The Tar Heels will bring the likes of Luke Maye, who is averaging nearly a double-double (14.5 points, 9.6 rebounds), and leading scorer Cameron Johnson. 

Tip-off from Durham is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Wednesday. Duke and UNC will meet again, this time in Chapel Hill, on March 9 in each team’s regular-season finale. 

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