Historically in the battle of Tobacco Road, North Carolina has been perceived as the superior program as far as turning out productive NBA players and stars. For as much success as the Duke program has had under Coach K, there was always that knock that the highly regarded college players he molded into winners rarely panned out with that promise at the highest level.
Names like Jordan, Worthy, Wallace, Jamison and Carter trumped those of Ferry, Laettner, Parks and Langdon every day of the week. And in the rare instances of a Duke player living up to the potential early on, injuries seemed to derail them – see Hill, Grant and Hurley, Bobby.
With North Carolina hosting Duke in the Dean Dome tonight for the first of the twice-annual meetings between the ACC’s two most successful programs, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the perception of UNC churning out NBA stars and Duke players never quite living up to the hype at the next level. It’s an especially interesting topic for me right now, with former Tar Heel stars Joe Forte, Rashad McCants and Sean May nowhere to be found, while Dukies such as Shane Battier, Luol Deng and Chris Duhon have carved out pretty nice careers for themselves.
As of today, there are 28 players between the two schools on NBA rosters – 16 Blue Devils and 12 Tar Heels. By sheer numbers alone, Duke has the edge. And when you delve deeper, it’s hard to say that the perception of the two schools’ fortunes in the NBA matches reality.
Battier, Shane SF Miami Heat
Boozer, Carlos PF Chicago Bulls
Brand, Elton PF Philadelphia 76ers
Deng, Luol SF Chicago Bulls
Duhon, Chris PG Orlando Magic
Dunleavy, Mike SF Milwaukee Bucks
Henderson, Gerald SG Charlotte Bobcats
Hill, Grant SF Phoenix Suns
Irving, Kyrie PG Cleveland Cavaliers
Jones, Dahntay SG Indiana Pacers
Maggette, Corey SF Charlotte Bobcats
McRoberts, Josh PF Los Angeles Lakers
Redick, J.J. SG Orlando Magic
Smith, Nolan PG Portland Trail Blazers
Thomas, Lance SF New Orleans Hornets
Williams, Shelden PF New Jersey Nets
Carter, Vince SG Dallas Mavericks
Davis, Ed PF Toronto Raptors
Ellington, Wayne SG Minnesota Timberwolves
Felton, Raymond PG Portland Trail Blazers
Green, Danny SF San Antonio Spurs
Hansbrough, Tyler PF Indiana Pacers
Haywood, Brendan C Dallas Mavericks
Jamison, Antawn PF Cleveland Cavaliers
Lawson, Ty PG Denver Nuggets
Stackhouse, Jerry SF Atlanta Hawks
Williams, Marvin PF Atlanta Hawks
Wright, Brandan PF Dallas Mavericks
The (One-Time) Stars
In this category, you’d be hard-pressed to go against the perception here. From day one, Vince Carter was a superstar in the league, throwing down thunderous dunks, scoring in high volumes and making the Toronto Raptors a relevant team. And while his relationship with Toronto soured and his game began a steady decline, Vince was an unquestioned star.
Meanwhile, his running mate and former Naismith winner, Antawn Jamison, was a quiet star, putting up insane numbers in Golden State before becoming somewhat of an NBA nomad.
As for Duke, Grant Hill was the “next Michael Jordan” before Vince or Kobe, truly mesmerizing and taking the NBA by storm during his days in Detroit. He was voted into the All-Star Game as a rookie and looked like he was going to break the curse of Duke players falling flat in the pros. He was not only a star, but a case can be made that he was THE STAR in the NBA at one time. His likable personality, including his piano-playing prowess, made him a marketable commodity, and his FILA shoes even had Duke haters like me gazing at them. Sadly, numerous ankle injuries ruined his big signing in Orlando, and Hill looked like an injury casualty, until he was reborn as a reliable defender and consummate pro in Phoenix.
The Other (One-Time) All-Stars
Believe it or not, Duke has the edge here. The only active Tar Heel to make an all-star game besides Carter and Jamison is the ageless Jerry Stackhouse, who is actually on the Hawks’ roster, despite no one actually knowing this. Stack had a very good rookie season in Philadelphia before being dealt due his struggle co-existing with Allen Iverson. After that, he had some spectacular years in Detroit and some very productive seasons in Dallas. The man could flat-out score.
On the flip side, a pair of once-dominant bigs for the Blue Devils made a few all-star appearances: Carlos Boozer and Elton Brand. The similarities between the two are pretty astounding as well. Boozer was a walking double-double during his days with Cleveland and Utah, but after some injury troubles and a change of scenery, he’s struggled to find his game in Chicago. Likewise, Brand was a walking double-double himself during his days as a Bull and Clipper, before injuries slowed him down. He hasn’t been the same player since he signed a huge free-agent deal in Philadelphia, though he did have a quietly excellent season last year. This year, not so much, though his defense has been key on an upstart Sixers team.
The Most Relevant Today
Here is where I may chicken out and call a wash, though the edge goes to Duke. The most relevant players from these two schools today are, without a doubt, Kyrie Irving, Ty Lawson, Luol Deng and Raymond Felton. Irving is the one deservedly getting the most praise right now. The rookie has immediately become the best player on the desolate Cavaliers, playing beyond his years and running away with the Rookie of the Year race. Not to be outdone, however, is Ty Lawson, the lead guard of a balanced and surprising Denver team that is doing just fine handling life, post-‘Melo.
Then, there is Deng, as well as Felton. Deng is perhaps the most important Chicago Bull not named Derrick Rose. While that may be an arguable point, what is not arguable is that Deng is Chicago’s second-best scorer and a versatile, vital cog in their title hopes. Felton has been a journeyman who never seems to get the appreciation he’s due. Last season, he was leading the Knicks back to prominence before being traded to Denver for ‘Melo. There, he continued his fine play, but was discarded yet again. Now in Portland, Felton is continuing to do what he does, helping the Blazers remain in playoff contention, despite the stunning retirement of franchise player, Brandon Roy.
For Duke, Shane Battier has carved out his niche as an elite defender, now running with the Heat to try and help them get one step further in year two of “the Decision”; Corey Maggette had a few borderline all-star years as a scorer in Los Angeles; and players like Josh McRoberts, Mike Dunleavy, Chris Duhon and J.J. Redick have become nice role players in the league.
For North Carolina, Marvin Williams has had some strong seasons in Atlanta as the third or fourth wheel behind Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford. He’s definitely had a respectable career, but it’s hard not to look at his selection as the second pick and be anything but disappointed, especially with star point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul selected with the third and fourth picks in the 2005 draft right behind him.
Where Williams gives off an air of disappointment behind his respectability, Brendan Haywood and Tyler Hansbrough have been pleasant surprises. Haywood is by no means a star, but he’s been a good rebounder and defensive player for a while now, and Hansbrough has shown he does have some NBA game in Indiana.
This list is all UNC. Brandan Wright was a lottery pick who was a shot-blocking machine in college but can’t get any sort of consistent run in the NBA. Wayne Ellington was the MOP during UNC’s last title season, not Hansbrough or Lawson, yet he really hasn’t done anything in Minnesota. And Ed Davis, another guy who was a force in college, can’t get more than 23 minutes a game in Toronto. Not good.
Duke: Gerald Henderson is the leading scorer for the Bobcats, but the Bobcats are absolutely horrible and Henderson really isn’t that impressive of a player. Dahntay Jones can play defense, but he is horrible on offense. Nolan Smith is a rook, so the jury is still out. Shelden Williams and Lance Thomas are on NBA rosters, but they are completely irrelevant.
UNC: Danny Green has had a mini-breakout this season in San Antonio after spending a few years on Cleveland’s bench. Hard to figure out why Pop has found a use for him where no one in Cleveland could.
So there you have it; a look at all the Duke and UNC players currently in the NBA. I think from the list above, it’s pretty safe to say that perception does not match reality any longer. Duke has clearly caught up recently, as far as NBA success goes, if not passing North Carolina with the past few drafts. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out this summer and beyond.
Enjoy the game, 9 p.m. EST.