The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday February 4th

Column: Saturday's UNC-Duke game will turn the page in the story of the rivalry

PJ Morales is the Sports Editor for the 2021-2022 school year.
Buy Photos PJ Morales is the Sports Editor for the 2021-2022 school year.

Even though it was April Fools' Day 2021, Ol’ Roy wasn’t joking.

The social media rumor mill started churning early that morning, followed by an official announcement: Roy Williams, UNC’s legendary men’s basketball coach, would be hanging up his argyle socks and retire. He was no longer “the right man for the job.”

As I stared at my phone, trying to take this news in, I was in disbelief. Even as I worked on our commemorative newspaper edition for the rest of the day, I couldn’t comprehend the words I was typing each time I typed them:

“Roy Williams retiring?”

“Who might replace Roy Williams?”

Words like “retire” and “replace” are meant for old farts or losing coaches, not for a Hall of Famer who won a national championship just four short years ago. What would a Dean Smith Center sideline look like without Ol’ Roy barking at his players, on the court named after him no less? After 18 seasons, could it even be real?

Then again, has any part of college basketball since COVID-19 began actually felt real? Hell, Williams may have retired in April 2021, but he hadn’t coached in front of a full home crowd since March 3, 2020.

Think about that — Williams, a god of UNC athletics that fans practically worship, went his whole final season without seeing a full home crowd at the Dean Smith Center. The Tar Heel risers never got to give him the postgame goodbye he deserved.

In Williams’ place, fans will now see Hubert Davis, the heir apparent to the North Carolina coaching family. UNC fans couldn’t have asked for a more meaningful hire — Davis played under Dean Smith in Chapel Hill from 1988-92 and had served as an assistant under Williams since 2012. 

If Williams didn’t think he was the right man for the job anymore, he certainly thought Davis was.

So all that said, when thinking about UNC playing Duke in the Smith Center on Saturday, I can’t help but feel like a page is truly being turned.

The stage is set — Hubert Davis will coach the Tar Heels against the Blue Devils on the court named for his mentor, in the stadium named after his coach. And when he looks down the sideline, who will he be faced with?

Only the most dastardly, conniving foe the Tar Heels ever faced, the same man who proved time and again that he could defeat both of Davis’ mentors when it mattered most — Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

You couldn’t find a better tale of blood rivalry and epic battle if you ripped one out of an Arthurian legend. On Saturday, a young, unproven knight will clash steel with the most decorated college basketball coach of all time, all while his forefathers watch on, whether in the stands or in spirit.

If Davis and his high-scoring, board-crashing squad led by ACC Player of the Year contender Armando Bacot can defend their home against the No. 9 Blue Devils, who lead the ACC in points per game and keeps opponents to a below 40 percent shooting on average, it will undoubtedly be the defining win of the first-year coach’s career up to now. To notch that kind of upset against that kind of opponent is what dreams are made of.

Lose — though — and Krzyzewski will prove that, even in his swan song season, he can still march into "The House That Dean Built" and crush the dreams of the Tar Heel faithful, claiming victory in an arena made of so much more than just hardwood and concrete.

But regardless of the outcome, regardless of who wins or loses and regardless of whether or not the intersection of Franklin and Columbia Sts. is due for a rushing, one thing remains true:

For the first time in over two years, a UNC-Duke game will be played in Chapel Hill in front of a full crowd — and you should be daggum excited.


@dthsports |

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