With the UNC-Duke men’s basketball rivalry recognized as one of the best in sports, it's only fitting that the two programs have also bred elite talent for the next level.
Some of those stars have accounted for key moments in the rivalry's history. Chris Duhon, Marvin Williams and Austin Rivers hit epic game-winning shots. Danny Green and Jerry Stackhouse delivered thunderous posters. The unpredictability of these games kept fans on the edge of their seats, wondering who would make the next big play.
What fans have not seen much of, though, are iconic matchups between former Tar Heels and Blue Devils on the professional stage.
Of course, the Tobacco Road rivalry is a sacred college basketball tradition, but both schools have certainly produced enough stars to create some intriguing NBA meetings ... right?
Duke and UNC players have rarely been stars in the same era during their NBA careers. The closest the schools have come was probably during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Vince Carter and Grant Hill were in the league at the same time. Both players were named NBA All-Stars in 2000, even facing off on Feb. 9, 2000, in a game where Carter and Hill went for 34 and 30 points, respectively. Hill’s Pistons beat Carter’s Raptors, 115-108, that day, making that probably the best matchup between star NBA players from this rivalry.
Neither before nor after this game, however, has a meeting between a UNC or Duke pro generated much zeal. Sure, Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes have faced off in the NBA Finals, but their roles and league statuses were immensely different.
Jayson Tatum and Brandon Ingram have been named All-Stars since leaving Duke, but neither player has a UNC counterpart that is quite on their level in the pros.
Though the world is currently lacking notable meetings, there is one pair of former UNC and Duke athletes worth keeping an eye on in the future: Coby White and Zion Williamson.
White and Williamson only got one real matchup in college, with Duke edging out UNC in a 2019 ACC Tournament game after a Williamson put-back layup and a late missed jumper from White. Williamson dominated the game, finishing with 31 points and 11 rebounds. White only scored 11 points but added five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Both players were lottery picks in the 2019 NBA Draft, with Williamson going first and White seventh.
While Williamson is certainly considered to have a higher ceiling, White is coming into his own as the Chicago Bulls' starting point guard. Playing alongside the high-flying Zach LaVine in the backcourt, White could easily have a big scoring outburst of his own on any given night. He's also improved his playmaking, as his assist numbers more than doubled from his rookie season.
Williamson also plays alongside a talented veteran in Ingram. Struggling with injuries in his rookie season, Williamson still managed to average north of 22 points per game. His ascension, combined with the lofty expectations for his career from day one, indicate that he'll be a player to pay attention to for several years.
The next matchup between the two is scheduled for Feb. 10 in Chicago, four days after the UNC-Duke game in Durham. In their first meeting in 2020, Zion scored 21 and White notched 14 in a 125-119 Pelicans victory. As second-year players, the UNC-Duke rivalry may be behind them, but each player's improving skills make this matchup more interesting for hoops fans in the Triangle.
Though they play two different positions, their promising career starts shows that, just maybe, the rivalry between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils will carry on at the next level for years to come.