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Former high school teammates prepare to write next chapter in UNC-Duke rivalry

Sophomore guard RJ Davis (4) runs with the ball in the game against Appalachian State in the Dean E. Smith Center on Dec 21, 2021. UNC won 70-50.

It’s not often that two high school teammates play against each other in college basketball, and even less common for two sets of high school teammates to do this — especially in one of the most heated rivalries in all of college basketball.

This exact situation is what North Carolina sophomore guard RJ Davis and senior forward Leaky Black will find themselves in on Saturday when Duke visits the Dean E. Smith Center.

Davis played with Blue Devils forward AJ Griffin at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, N.Y., from 2017-2020, while Black teamed up with forward Wendell Moore Jr. at Cox Mill in Concord during his senior year in 2017-2018. 

This will be the first time Davis and Griffin face each other wearing different shades of blue. But Black and Moore have faced off four times since Moore entered the Duke program in the 2019-2020 season — one of which included a buzzer-beater from Moore to give the Blue Devils a stunning win two years ago.

“You try to be excited for one of your guys, but at the other time you got your other guy sitting on the bench who just lost a big game to a former teammate,” former Cox Mill head coach Jody Barbee said. “As a coach, it’s pulling at your heart a little bit just watching both kids having a great moment and a sad moment at the same time.”

At the end of the day, no matter who is on the winning side of the rivalry, there’s a mutual respect between the two high school teammates.

“Their relationship is one of respect,” Black’s mother, Carla Black, said. “People want him to say something that sounds like a better fit for the Carolina-Duke rivalry, but I’ve never heard (Leaky) say anything but how great of a player (Wendell) is. He just respects his game.”

This respect between the now Tobacco Road foes comes from Black’s senior year at Cox Mill, where he and Moore helped the team win a state championship with a 29-3 record while ranked No. 21 in the nation.

Moore averaged 25.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, using his 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage, anchoring the Chargers offense. Meanwhile, Black averaged 13.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 3.2 steals and 1.5 blocks, and was the top defender on the team. 

The roles Moore and Black took on while at Cox Mill are akin to the roles they now have at Duke and North Carolina. Moore is the Blue Devils' second-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder, while Black just became the sixth Tar Heel ever to accumulate 500 points, 400 rebounds, 200 assists, 100 steals and 50 blocks in their career.

“Wendell could put the ball in the hole when you needed him to, and Leaky could get a stop when we needed him to get a stop from somebody,” Barbee said. “You always put Leaky on the best player on the other team and say, ‘Hey, he’s your guy. I don’t want him scoring more than five points.’”

So far this season, Black has done just that, limiting some of the ACC’s best scorers to fewer than five points, holding Georgia Tech’s Michael Devoe and N.C. State’s Dereon Seabron to two points each.

The style of play Black and Moore had at Cox Mill is similar to that of Davis and Griffin at Archbishop Stepinac, where the pair played together for three seasons and were two-time New York Archdiocesan AA Champions in 2018 and 2020.

Although Davis and Griffin are drastically different players, especially given their heights of 6 feet and 6-foot-6, respectively, their competitive spirits aligned and complemented each other’s skills while at Stepinac.

“The one thing about both of them is that they’re obviously gifted scorers, but they have the ability to really shoot the ball at a high level,” Archbishop Stepinac head coach Patrick Massaroni said. “The other thing is to get players involved. They were never selfish. They cared about winning, and when you have that and you don’t care about 'me' and you care about 'we,' it allows for a lot of success.”

But Davis and Griffin no longer find themselves on the same side of the ball, and the competitiveness of each player will be used against the other.

“There’s going to be lots of back and forth just because of who we are and our competitive nature,” Davis said. “It’ll be a fun game for me and him.”

Once the two players put on their respective shades of blue, they’re no longer trying to help each other try to win — they’re trying to beat the other.

“In the end, they’re competitors,” Massaroni said. “Their competitive nature will be on a high on Feb. 5. They’ll both want to one-up the other. If you ask both of them, they want to win, and the Carolina-Duke rivalry takes it to another level.”

When the ball tips off Saturday and the 256th meeting between the two blue bloods begins, any respect that the two sets of high school teammates have for each other will be on a 40-minute hiatus.

“Obviously when the rivalry is on, the rivalry is on, and all bets are off,” Carla Black said.

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