College basketball's biggest rivalry takes center stage Wednesday night when No. 8 Duke visits North Carolina at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. Since the two teams met for the first time in 1920, some of the game's best have come through Durham and Chapel Hill. With a new cast of talent on each roster, SB Nation spoke with former Blue Devil Grant Hill on his alma mater, its star freshman and the rivalry in general.
What's your take on Jabari Parker? Coach K doesn't often bring in one-and-done guys, but Parker has paid off pretty well.
Jabari is a great player. He's fun to watch. He's versatile. I think he's gotten better. He can score, he can facilitate. I think he's becoming a better defender. I like that he's more vocal. He's playing with emotion, he's interacting with his teammates. He's learning to become a great leader. That's what they're going to need from him. He has an opportunity to leave after this year. Who knows what will happen, but we know he will be a pro. He will be a great pro. Being a leader will only help him at the next level. The scoring was always there, but in terms of how he does it now, if someone makes a great play, he's over there pumping them up. You see he's learning and he's growing.
Is this the deepest NBA Draft ever? It seems like there are high-impact players ready to go just about everywhere in the first round.
I think it's a good draft and there's some good talent out there. Obviously drafts sometimes are good ones, or bad ones, I think you can get a good, quality player late in the lottery. At 10 you can get a good player. So I think it's going to be an exciting draft. I look forward to seeing these guys next year and covering them.
And looking at this Duke team, the Blue Devils seem to finally have hit their stride after a few early losses in conference. What's changed that has made them so successful over the last month or so?
Each team is different and I think the beauty of Coach K is that he coaches each team differently in the sense that each team has its own personality. Forming an identity took some time. The pieces were there, but it needed to mesh and be put together. Coach K had the death of his brother and I think that hit him hard. It was a distraction, if you will, to him and to the team, so I think everything's back on track. Everyone is playing well and you see the improvement in terms of the togetherness and defensive play and understanding how to win. We all know conference play is not easy. Hopefully as a group they can hit their stride and start playing great.
From your experience at Duke, how does Coach K respond to a tough stretch like the Blue Devils had in January? What would he do to make sure the team rebounds quickly?
Each loss is a different scenario. I'm not sure if you can do this anymore because of NCAA rules, but we drove back from UVA after a big loss, drove 3.5 hours, got back to the gym and had practice. It was the hardest practice I ever had. I actually broke my nose in that practice dunking. Sometimes it would be a difficult, challenging situation.
Then I remember we lost in 1992 at Carolina. Our first loss of the season. And I'm thinking we're going to have a tough practice and we end up having an ice cream sundae party. But he's a masterful motivator. He's a big-picture guy. He's always thinking about the Final Four and winning a championship. Whatever the team needs.
I always compare coaching, in particular with Coach K, to parenting. There's 12 inches between a pat on the back and a pat on the butt. You have to do both. He understands what his team needs. Sometimes you need encouragement, sometimes you need a kick in the butt. He has a great feel for what he needs to bring to the table.
Duke and UNC meet in Chapel Hill tonight. What's your favorite Duke-Carolina memory?
My favorite memory is all the times we beat them. How about that? There are some great moments. You can throw the records out. You can throw the rankings out. When these two teams play, anyone has a chance to win. My favorite memory is as a freshman going to Carolina and beating them. Going over there and winning on their court. I think that was the only time I did win on their court.
You're going to help announce the 2014 Allstate NABC Good Works Team. How did you get involved with this award?
I'm very excited to be a national ambassador for the NABC and the Allstate NABC Good Works Team. We are honoring college basketball players who stood out for the work that they've done in the community and in their various charitable activities. There are 10 players who are being honored at their respective schools. Those 10 players will all be at the Final Four. There were 117 NABC nominees and we had to narrow it down to 10. I feel that it's great that these kids are understanding the platform that they have. I guarantee it will stay with them for a lifetime. I had the opportunity at Duke to start doing things in the community and it's something I continue to do even 20 years later. I think it's a great message. I'm ecstatic to be a part of it.
For those out there, it's NABC.org. There's a lot of information and you can see a list of the college players and the schools that they come. I look forward to meeting all of them at the Final Four this year in Dallas.