Freshmen play a key role in Duke-UNC

DURHAM, N.C. -- Freshman Austin Rivers has never been to a Duke-North Carolina game in person -- and thus, has never experienced the pregame hysteria, the midgame intensity, the postgame ear-ringing.

But after years of watching the rivalry on television, of rewinding replays on YouTube, of seeing the highlights on "SportsCenter," the Blue Devils guard knows exactly what he has to do.

"I'm going to go out there and be aggressive, on both ends of the floor, especially defense, defensive rebounding," he said. "I'll be looking for my teammates, and looking to attack.

"I'm going to have an impact."

Bold prediction for a rookie? Perhaps. But in Wednesday's game at the Dean E. Smith Center (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET), the rookies who make an impact could make the difference, just as they have so many times in the past.

Rivers is the leading scorer on a ninth-ranked team that's still trying to find consistent defense, leadership and an identity after losing at home to Miami on Sunday. His classmate, Quinn Cook, is one of three point guards who have started for the Blue Devils this season.

No freshmen start for fifth-ranked UNC, but guard P.J. Hairston and classmate James Michael McAdoo are the first players off the bench -- a bench that has struggled to score since sophomore reserve Reggie Bullock moved into the starting lineup.

A bench that wants to change that trend, particularly against the rival Devils.

"Of course, this is a game when you want to make a difference," McAdoo said. "That's got to be the case for any player, any [freshman], who's ever played in it."

Actually, freshmen weren't allowed to play in this showdown -- or any varsity NCAA basketball game -- until 1972.

But some credit a freshman -- and a freshman game -- for sparking arguably the best rivalry in college basketball.

Art Heyman, a fiery forward from Long Island who was regarded as the nation's top prospect in 1959, had originally agreed to play for Frank McGuire in Chapel Hill. But when he instead ended up eight miles down the road after new Blue Devils coach Vic Bubas changed his parents' minds, McGuire -- and the rest of the Tar Heels -- did not take it well.

"You've got to remember that up until 1960, '61, NC State and Carolina were the [basketball] brand. Duke was nice, but those were the two killers," said former Blue Devils coach Bucky Waters.

"But when Heyman ended up in Durham, that turned up the heat between Carolina and Duke incredibly."

And quickly.

When Heyman's freshman team at Duke met up with the UNC rookies in Siler City, N.C., in 1960, Waters, then the Devils' freshman coach, warned his brash star that the Heels -- and their fans -- would try to get under his skin.

And they did, taunting Heyman's Jewish heritage, according to Waters, and calling him other unprintable names.

"And I just told him, 'Keep your trap shut, play hard, shut your ears, and rip them,'" Waters said. "I told him I'd take him out at the end of the game, and he could look over to the bench and point to the scoreboard as his answer. The problem was, I didn't get him out early enough."

Near the end of Duke's win, with tensions still high, Tar Heels forward Dieter Krause, who was matched up with Heyman, clocked his foe so hard it drew blood.

Waters said Kraus threw the first punch.

Kraus, in a recent interview with ESPN.com, said he was just playing aggressively -- and defending himself.

"This was the second half, and I was playing defense on who I subsequently found out was Art Heyman -- I really didn't know who he was going into the game," Krause said. "I was playing him pretty tightly, after having been chastised at halftime for not playing defense aggressively enough … and I remember a fist coming at me, and I instinctively ducked. He missed in his effort to hit me with his right hand -- and I instinctively counterpunched, and I connected with a punch to his face. … And then total mayhem broke out."

The benches cleared; Krause went into an embryonic position to try to protect himself from kicking Duke players; Waters got so mad that he grabbed UNC freshman coach Ken Rosemond by the lapels and pushed him up against the scorer's table; and Heyman (who finished with 35 points) ended up needing stitches.

But that freshman fracas ended up serving as only the undercard for the following year's Brawl at Cameron -- the one that saw Heyman and UNC's Larry Brown and Donnie Walsh ultimately suspended for the rest of the ACC season after a 10-minute melee.

"There's no doubt there have been a lot of things that fed into the rivalry," Waters said, "but that fanned the flames."

And was ultimately one of many freshman impacts on the Duke-UNC rivalry.

From Tar Heels star Walter Davis' bank shot in 1974 -- which completed the infamous eight-points-in-17-seconds comeback that forced overtime and led to a UNC victory -- to Blue Devils forward Kyle Singler's double-double during Duke's win at the Dean Dome in 2008, the rookies have had a way of making their presence felt, especially recently.

In 1998, Duke's Elton Brand, coming off an injury, scored 16 points and rallied his team to victory in the regular-season finale. Luol Deng averaged 21 points as a freshman in two Blue Devils wins in 2004. Tyler Hansbrough scored 27 to beat Duke on senior night in 2006.

And McAdoo can't count the number of times he's watched video of Carolina forward Marvin Williams putting back a missed free throw and ultimately converting a 3-point play with 17 seconds left to beat Duke in 2005.

"He plays it down, says it was just a basket," McAdoo said of his friend's key play. "… But what a basket."

And what a circumstance.

There have been plenty of other freshman moments, too, and Rivers, Cook, McAdoo and Hairston -- who sheepishly admits he was a Duke fan, for a while, growing up -- says they'd love to add to them.

• For Rivers, that would mean continuing his strong play of late. During his first five games in January, he averaged only 8.6 points per game (on 36.4 shooting), but since then he's averaging 16.5 points (47.4 percent shooting). The leading ACC Rookie of the Year candidate could also match up with preseason ACC Player of the Year Harrison Barnes -- a duel of future first-round draft picks.

• For Cook, it would mean making the confident impact he began in early January, when he moved into the starting lineup and gave the Blue Devils an instant boost. He's been coming off the bench lately, but will be key Wednesday night in trying to match, and slow, UNC's taller perimeter.

• For Hairston, that would mean finally shooting his way out of his ACC slump; he's made only 10 of 43 shots in his last eight games, and the Tar Heels need more spark off the bench.

• And for McAdoo, it would mean pushing his strong, focused practice play that began several weeks ago back onto the court. He's played better of late, but he's still waiting for a breakout game.

No matter their individual stats, all agree that a huge moment for each -- as well as their freshmen teammates who might not be playing as much -- will be finally experiencing the rivalry they've seen only from the sidelines or on television.

"I'm just so excited, just can't wait for it to get here,'' Hairston said Tuesday. "I've watched so many of these games ... and I just want to be part of a win."

Research from ESPN Stats & Info's Jason McCallum and goduke.com's Al Featherson was used in this story. Robbi Pickeral can be reached at bylinerp@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @bylinerp.