On Feb. 1, 2001, Brendan Haywood stepped up to the foul line at Cameron Indoor Stadium as a 48-percent free-throw shooter. Minutes later, he’d leave his mark on the North Carolina-Duke rivalry forever.
Haywood, then a senior, sank two free throws with 1.2 seconds left to give the Tar Heels an 85-83 win over the Blue Devils. To this day, it remains his favorite individual memory from his four seasons at North Carolina, which also included two Final Four runs.
So, when asked about the possibility of a UNC-Duke NCAA title game this year, Haywood’s answer wasn't a surprise.
“I think the UNC-Duke rivalry is the best rivalry in all of college sports,” he told The Daily Tar Heel in an exclusive interview. “If you’ve got that in the championship game? I think it would be great for the rivalry. I think it would be great for college basketball. I think the ratings would be through the roof. I don’t know who doesn’t think this is a good idea, but this rivalry would be big time.”
The Tar Heels and Blue Devils — both No. 1 seeds in their respective regions and legitimate championship contenders — will play in the Sweet 16 on Friday. A lot has to fall in place for a rematch in Minneapolis, Minnesota, later this month. But, if the first ever NCAA Tournament meeting between the two does happen, Haywood would be ecstatic.
“Whoever loses, it would stink,” Haywood said. “To lose a championship is tough. To lose it to your biggest rival is even tougher. So whoever loses would really be down and out. But I’ll tell you this: I can’t think of anything that would be better for the rivalry or for college basketball.”
Haywood, now 39, is in his third year as a studio analyst for Turner Sports and CBS Sports’ March Madness coverage. In a phone interview with the DTH on Wednesday, he spoke on settling into a broadcast career, how he stays connected to UNC and more.
DTH: How much of UNC’s first two NCAA Tournament games were you able to watch?
BH: I’ve watched most games. I was a little worried the first game (against Iona). In the first half, didn’t really like the energy we came out with. But in the second half, we played well. The second game, I was really encouraged. I think the guys played a great game all the way through. I think playing against the Syracuse zone really prepared them for the Washington zone. It was a really dominant performance, one of the better performances of the weekend.
DTH: What do you think of UNC’s Final Four chances?
BH: I think UNC has a great chance to advance to the Final Four. Auburn and UNC both play an up-and-down tempo, which is great for UNC because they get to play their style. And I think they’re better at that style than Auburn. Auburn’s top three in the nation in steals, so if UNC doesn’t turn it over but continues to play fast and doubles up Auburn on the glass — UNC is top two in rebound margin — I think it’ll go well for UNC.
DTH: Who on this year’s team has stood out to you most?
BH: I think the guy that makes me go ‘wow’ the most is Coby White because I didn’t expect it. I expected the freshman that I’d be talking about this time of year would be Nassir Little. But Coby White being the 6-foot-5 super-fast point guard, he can already shoot the ball, he has step-backs, elite-level quickness. I think if he came out this year, he’d probably be a lottery pick; that’s how well he’s played. Coby has really caught my eye, and I think he’s key to this team. Because when he plays well, makes smart decisions and is hitting shots, he takes Carolina to another level.
DTH: In broadcasting, what’s been your biggest challenge?
BH: I think the toughest thing in broadcasting is just letting your personality show. When I first got into it, it was all about getting stats and things of that nature, but I wasn’t me. Some of friends were like, ‘Yo, you did a great job, but you weren’t you. You weren’t Brendan like you normally are.’ So you’ve got to find that happy medium of being relaxed on camera, being yourself, knowing when it’s time to be serious, when it’s time to joke, when it’s time to maybe give a little bit of insight into your career, how you viewed situations.
And mixing that takes some time, to find out what the exact formula is. But when I first got up there, I tried to come out there and spit out stats. But it’s more than that. When you look at some of the guys who are really, really good at this, like Charles Barkley, he probably doesn’t know one stat. But he’s himself. And being yourself and genuine and authentic is the most important thing you can be in this business.
DTH: What’s it been like working as an analyst alongside WNBA player Candace Parker?
BH: Oh man, it’s been great working with Candace. Her basketball career goes without saying: Hall of Famer. So any time you get to work with a Hall of Famer, it’s a great thing. And then, on top of that, she really knows her stuff. She takes this seriously. She puts a lot of work in when we’re comparing notes or talking off set about what she thinks, what I think, what I see, what she sees.
She just really does an excellent job. Like, last year, her first year, coming in as a rookie and handling it the way she did, I was super impressed. She just continued to build on that this season. Every year, you can just tell she’s going to get better and better and better. I’m glad she’s in the Turner Sports family with me, and Turner has a star on their hands. She’s going to be a star in this business. Whenever she decides to hang up her Adidases and do this full time, she’s going to be one of the best in the business.
DTH: Who do you keep in touch with most from your UNC days?
BH: UNC’s a family, man. I keep in contact with so many people, from my team, to teams that were before me, to younger teams. Like, I’m literally on a group chat, and it spans from guys like George Lynch to Harrison Barnes. Sam Perkins is on there. We’ll have stars from the ’80s to the guys that are in the league right now. I try to keep in contact with everybody.
Some of my best friends on teams I played on — guys like Kris Lang, Julius Peppers, Adam Boone — I really kept in contact with. Sean May’s like my little brother. I was in Sean May’s wedding. We’re family. Jawad Williams, that’s family. We’re a family, and we all come back and have a good time with each other.
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