Duke vs. North Carolina in the NBA: Perception vs. Reality

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.

The Dukies
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

The Heels
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.

The Respectables
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.

The Busts
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.

The Others
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.

24 Replies to “Duke vs. North Carolina in the NBA: Perception vs. Reality”

  1. I'm so amped for the game, I wish they could take the court right now. I have to agree with you that Carolina hasn't put many stars in the league today like they used to back in the day. Duke on the other hand has been consistent, churning out players who've gone on to decent careers playing "bit-part" roles.

    I'd probably have to pinpoint the change in the recruiting landscape as a big factor here. With more and more schools appearing on TV, traditional powers still have get theirs, but there's always that one prized recruit that will opt to try his luck elsewhere.. case in point.. Kevin Durant. Had it been the 80s/90s, he probably wouldn't have thought twice about playing for any other program beside Carolina. However because Texas has the resources, they were able to do their homework and Rick Barnes was able to get a shot at bringing him to Austin.

    Back to the rivalry.. as much as I despise Duke with every ounce of my being, I gotta give them their dues. Without Coach K, this rivarly would not be enjoying the national prestige it does today. Yes, it would have still been a big rivalry, but probably only in-state; now, it's like almost every basketball fan HAS to pick a side.

    I respect Coach K, and there's a few Duke players that have won my respect with their play on the court (Jay Williams, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Carlos Boozer, Nolan Smith, Daniel Ewing, Chris Duhon, Gerald Henderson (even though that "elbow thing" was dumb)...). I also respect the school's dedication to the academic side of things, but that's about as far as I'll go.

    Once it gets on the hardwood, the very sight of "Duke Blue" makes my insides turn...


  2. It's amazing how these schools just reload every year. It says a lot about their programs and the impact they have on the sports world. Great post man. You had me walking down memory lane for a minute there.

  3. People forget how good Grant Hill was. I mean, he led a team of cats that many can't even remember today to the NCAAs. He shut down (and scored on) one of the best scorers in college basketball (Glenn 'Big Dog' Robinson) and he was a class act. He did have a penchant for running over to NCCU for the women, but I digress (Joe, you had to have seen him over there at least a few times). It was sad that he used the same doctor that operated on his father and that was the issue with his ankle. Even he and Stackhouse were pretty good together in Detroit.

    J. Williams would have been a beast if it weren't for that motorcycle accident, and the same with Bobby Hurley.

    As far as busts, Daniel Ewing comes to mind. If he and Maggette would have stayed one more year together, they would have done some things at Duke. Langdon wasn't a bust of sorts because he was who he was. You don't draft him to be your point guard (Cleveland wishes it had that one back). He was a slower version of Craig Ehlo.

    Duke needs to win this game tonight, but I'm not sure they have the horses up front to handle UNC's size. Maybe Harrison goes out and gets his party on like he was this past weekend and forgets about this game. This one may get ugly quickly, but GO DUKE!!!

    1. Jay Williams was supposed to take Duke over the top in a way that Kyrie Irving is doing now. What's interesting is how many non-stars UNC has really put out since the glory days of the 90's. I can't really think of anyone who has come out of UNC and been a superstar since Vince Carter in '99.

      1. Ed part of that is because guys were going straight to the NBA at the end of the 90's and early at the turn of the Century. Think about how many super stars in the league actually went to college in the last few years.

        Lebron - no
        Melo - 1 year
        Kobe - no
        D Howard - no
        CP3 - Wake
        Derron - Illinois
        Dirk - no
        Durant - Texas

        All the recent stars have gone to Calipari U (Memphis/Kentucky).

        Notice that the teams that win a national championship now are loaded with upper classmen that are good but not super star quality.

  4. Not sure why Shelden Williams doesn't make the bust list...everything said about Brandan Wright applies to him as well. Also worth pointing out that Duke has its fair share of big-names in recent years who didn't make it or last in the NBA, much the same as Forte, McCants and May. Daniel Ewing, Jon Scheyer, William Avery, DeMarcus Nelson and Kyle Singler come to mind. You can't just cherrypick data to support your point.

    1. If you notice, I wrote about players currently in the NBA from the two schools. The names you're mentioning aren't in the league. I only brought up May, McCants and Forte because I'm surprised none of those guys are in the league.

      As for Shelden Williams, I don't remember anyone having any expectations for him in the league, whereas Wright was expected to do something if he could put on weight.

      And finally, I think you may be confusing my argument with some sort of bias, when I am, in fact, a Carolina fan and absolutely despise Duke.

      Perhaps I should have made a list of players who left but aren't still in the league if they were at all, but that's not what I was doing. I was analyzing players currently in the league from the two schools. You can call that cherry-picking data if you want. I simply call it data.

      1. However, I will conceded here that I probably should have put Shelden in the bust category. He was the 5th pick overall, somehow, by the Hawks, who just seem like complete fools drafting guys from these schools. Nothing like drafting a guy with absolutely no offense No. 5 overall, and taking Marvin No. 2 overall over Deron and Paul. Imagine what that team could look like if they actually drafted even just half-decently.

        1. That's all I was pointing out - Shelden was a lottery pick who hasn't produced and has bounced around teams, same as Wright. If one is a bust, it stands to reason the other should be as well. And I don't disagree with your premise in this article; it just seemed you only picked some players who fit the profile to back your point, such as pointing out May and McCants, but not Will Avery - when all three were lottery picks who flamed out early. But this was an interesting article - I agree Carolina really hasn't put out the NBA stars in recent years that I think we kind of just assume they do.

          1. I hear you there. I was tempted to talk about William Avery and probably should have mentioned him. But I only mentioned May, McCants and Forte to explain why I broached the topic. Then again, I see how they comes across as lopsided by not mentioning some of the Duke flameouts. Definitely should have had a little more there.

      2. I simply call it unc data..where you throw something in the air and hopes it catching on.. just bc u say it DON'T MAKE IT SO.. like just because they got a degree from unc don't make them educated....

  5. people forget rasheed wallace (13 years and at least one championship), plus 45 points against Lakers in playoffs with Portland

  6. people forget rasheed wallace (13 years and a championship with Detriot) He also scored 45 against Lakers in playoffs when he was with Portland. Very much a team player and did not care about scoring.


  7. All can be biest all u want,but even the best player ever wouldn't of been the greatest or have all those rings without great players beside him..its all about who's on the teams with each player that will make anyone greater...

  8. So basically it seems the players that played under Dean became better pros than either Coach Roy or Coach K. Thanks for cementing his legacy.

    1. oH ARE WE GOING TO JUST IGNORE THAT KYRIE IVRVIN IS A STAR IN THE NBA, SHANE IS STILL A MONSTER HOW MANY YEARS OUT.. how many tarheels are still making noise.. just like a tarhole to read something and LEAVE OUT THE TRUTH.. I guess that's how they graduated by leaving out the truth that they CHEATED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. How many rings have the dookies received in the nba?? Scott Williams has more alone. I think Lynch has more. And duke has what 3 altogether? You are a moron.

    1. AND HOW MAN UNC PLAYERS ACTUALLY EARNED THEIR RINGS ( AND NOT ACQUIRE THEM BECASUE THEY ENDED UP ON A GOOD TEAM WITH GOOD PLAYERS?? Let's not forget the BEST COLLEGE PLAYERS ends up on the worst teams at first.....so being picked no. 22 and ending up with a great team DON'T MAKE THEN WINNERS just makes them lucky...

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