CHICAGO -- The Champions Classic at the United Center is so big that even Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is going to try and leave the confines of his office at the Berto Center on Tuesday so that he can be in attendance.
It's rare that college games create this kind of buzz so early in the season but that's exactly what has happened, even within the Bulls locker room, because of the teams in play. When Michigan State faces off against Kentucky and Duke squares off against Kansas, there will be plenty of interested eyes on those games from within Thibodeau's locker room.
Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Luol Deng all played at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski. Thibodeau served as an assistant under Krzyzewski on Team USA's staff last summer. Derrick Rose played for Krzyzewski on Team USA in 2010.
Rose played for John Calipari when Calipari was the coach at Memphis and Marquis Teague played for Calipari just a couple of seasons ago at Kentucky. Nazr Mohammed is a proud Kentucky alumnus and Kirk Hinrich played at Kansas. All those connections are part of the reason many players plan to join their coach at the United Center on Tuesday night.
Boozer, Deng and Dunleavy Jr. are just a few of the many Duke players to wear a Bulls jersey in recent years.
"I'm going to be honest, over the years I've been in the league Chicago has always had a few different Dukies," Boozer said. "(Chris) Duhon or drafting Jay (Williams), so it's great for us to have Mike (Dunleavy) and Lu (Deng) and myself on the team. But I'm excited to see the new team play. I heard they got a lot of talent. Obviously, Jabari (Parker's) got a lot of notoriety, especially being from Chicago but being a great player. I'm looking forward to watching him and (Andrew) Wiggins get down. It's going to be fun."
Plenty of attention will be on Simeon product Parker as he makes his return to Chicago as a Blue Devil.
"I expect continued improvement," Krzyzewski told ESPNChicago.com recently of Parker. "He's a fabulous young man from an amazing family in the South Side of Chicago. His team won four straight state titles in Illinois. He has the charisma and talent of a special player. As a special player goes from one level to another there's a period of transition in the speed, the physicality, the commitment, everything that needs to be made.
"Jabari's going through that, and he's done a really good job. He keeps getting better, and I've really enjoyed coaching him thus far. I'm really excited about the future with him because he's a great young man and he wants to be really good, I mean really good, and we're going to try and help him get there."
Krzyzewski is happy that his hometown Bulls have a connection to his Duke program.
"I'm a Bulls fan," he said. "I grew up a mile and a half due north on Damen Avenue, around Damen and Augusta 10 hundred north from the United Center or the Chicago Stadium, so to have four -- three of my Duke guys and then Derrick on the team -- and then Tom, who I'm going to work with for the next four years. Are you kidding me? It couldn't be better. I'll be pulling for them like crazy."
Thibodeau enjoyed his experience with Krzyzewski over the summer and has talked about how much he learned from the Hall of Fame coach. Krzyzewski said he asked his former players, including Boozer, for advice before he made the decision to bring Thibodeau into the fold.
"I said one of the things you guys have in common, other than just wanting to win really bad, is your preparation," Boozer said. "Both of those guys prepare at the highest level to try and compete and win. Coach K had that same regimen; he would watch tape for hours on whoever we were about to play against and Thibs does the same thing. ... he watches tape for hours. It was great for them. Obviously, Thibs got on the coaching staff and his defensive schemes would work in any league, anywhere in the world. We had some great conversations."