Jackie Manuel played basketball at North Carolina from 2001-2005, winning a national title and helping lead the Tar Heels over Duke in his final game at the Dean E. Smith Center. Now, he serves as the director of player personnel, development and recruiting operations for UNC women's basketball.
Before the Tar Heels' first time facing the Blue Devils this year, we talked to Manuel about his UNC-Duke memories, playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium, guarding J.J. Redick and more.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Daily Tar Heel: Being from Florida, what was your experience with the rivalry before coming to UNC?
Jackie Manuel: Growing up in Florida, it wasn’t a whole lot of basketball games, it was a bunch of football games on TV all the time. But the one game that was always on, or the one rivalry that was always on TV from a basketball standpoint was the Carolina-Duke game. At a young age, I was able to tune in and really just see that excitement behind the game, the build-up and the talented players that played in those games and ended up playing in the NBA. One of those guys that I was a big fan of was Vince Carter, so that was a connection for me with Vince Carter being from Florida and playing at North Carolina. I was definitely in tune to what was going on between the two programs.
DTH: Was the rivalry something that was brought up as a recruiting pitch?
JM: I don’t think so. For me personally, you don’t have to pitch that game; that’s happening, that’s what it is. That’s one of the biggest rivalries in sports history, so for me it was like, "I want to play for one of those programs so I can be a part of this game."
DTH: What was going through your head the first time you suited up to play Duke?
JM: At Duke, I was nervous. I was nervous as all get-out. You watch the games and you hear Dick Vitale talk about all the freshmen and the top players and the Cameron Crazies and you hear all of this. So now you’re walking into this building, and that’s in your mind. Like, oh man, I’m about to play in this game against people that I know, but as a young player, I’m more impacted by my surroundings, so I was super nervous.
DTH: Is there a difference in how the game feels when you’re playing in Cameron?
JM: The game is so big. The game is at a different level. But then when you walk into Cameron for the first time, and I’m not saying it’s a small gym, but the Smith Center is huge, so I was expecting Cameron to be huge. So I walk in there, and it’s this closed environment where the fans are right on top of you, it just changed the game. It took it to a different level, I’m like, "Man, the fans can touch me, this feels like a high school environment." It’s super loud, and I know there’s bragging rights to this game, and now it just went to a different level, being in this historic place.
DTH: You guys had some difficult years when you first got to UNC, and Duke won a lot during that span. What was it like watching that when that’s obviously where you guys wanted to be?
JM: It was very difficult. It was difficult in the sense of, not so much them winning, but my freshman year, we didn’t win a game against them. We played them three times, and we went 0-3. So it just burned inside, like, "You’re telling me we can’t beat them one time?" And they’re hyping all these guys up, and a lot of those guys deserved that, but it’s like "Man, I want to be in that position. I want to be in that position where we’re playing for a national championship. I want to be in a position where the former Carolina players before me went into Cameron and won, or won in the Dean Dome." So it was a driving force for us.
DTH: How did it feel the first time you got a win against Duke?
JM: It was like, "Man, this is what it feels like, I want to do it again." This is what it feels like to win this game, to compete in this environment and to know that we have bragging rights in our community. At the time, their players and our players were getting our hair cut at the same place. So you had the barbers that were a Carolina fan and Duke fans, so you walk in there and if you lost the games that year, you’ll hear that going into the barber shop.
DTH: You guarded J.J. Redick, who was obviously one of the biggest players in college basketball at the time, so what was that matchup like?
JM: It was fun, I actually enjoyed guarding J.J. Redick. And I was really hoping for J.J. Redick to have a good game before they played us and to have a good game after they played us. It was just my competitive spirit — I wanted everyone in the country and J.J. to know that there’s a difference between the person that’s guarding you before this game, myself and the person that’s guarding you after this game. Every time we played, that’s what I wanted him to understand — it was going to be a game where him and I were gonna push each other, and we were gonna be very competitive. Him trying to do his job of putting the ball in the hole; myself trying to do my job of eliminating those opportunities.
DTH: What’s your best memory of playing in the rivalry?
JM: The No. 1 memory was winning at home in 2005. I think Marvin (Williams) got an and one and the place just erupted, that was the loudest I’ve ever heard the Smith Center. And the second is the Speedo guy.
DTH: Can you explain the Speedo guy?
JM: One of the Cameron Crazies came in with a coat on, and as I got to the free-throw line, he took the coat off and he was behind the backboard (in a Speedo) as I was shooting, and he started doing his dance or whatever he was doing and distracted me to the point where I lost my concentration and missed both free throws.
DTH: In the years since you’ve graduated, what’s your experience been like watching the rivalry?
JM: I feel the same way I felt when I played. If there was a camera inside my home when that game is on, everyone would see my emotions. They’d see the roller coaster of emotions as the game goes back and forth. I still want our team and our players and coach (Roy) Williams to be successful against Duke, just like I felt when I was a player.