Duke, UNC focus on basketball recruit

Roy, Coach K converge on Ames

Staff WritersOctober 7, 2009 

  • For all the fire and fury that has marked the Duke-North Carolina basketball rivalry on the court, their recruiting rivalry has not lacked drama, either.

    It started 50 years ago when Art Heyman, the top high school player in the country, committed to North Carolina. But before he enrolled, Heyman changed his mind and went to Duke. Some other recruiting battles:

    In the mid-1960s, Dean Smith won perhaps his most crucial recruiting battle with Duke, getting Larry Miller from Catasaqua, Pa. Miller led the Tar Heels to two Final Fours.

    Duke won the battle for Danny Ferry in the mid-1980s. The national high school player of the year helped propel the Blue Devils to the national championship game as a freshman in 1986.

    The Blue Devils also signed Grant Hill (1990) and Shane Battier (1997), both of whom gave North Carolina strong consideration before choosing Duke. Hill and Battier helped guide Duke to a combined three national titles during their separate, four-year college careers.

    The Tar Heels edged Duke for forward Brandan Wright. The three-time Tennessee player of the year was the ACC freshman of the year and ACC Tournament MVP in 2007 before leaving for the NBA.

How much do Duke and North Carolina want to sign 6-foot-6 high school basketball phenom Harrison Barnes?

Apparently there's enough of a sense of urgency at both schools for coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams to head to Ames, Iowa, to visit the home of Scout.com's top-ranked 2010 recruit -- on the same night.

Ames High coach Vance Downs said that he was not present during the rival coaches' separate visits Monday evening, but he briefly discussed the situation with his star player Tuesday morning.

"That's all I know, is that they were both there ... and it was a busy night," Downs said in a phone interview.

The visits are the most recent twist in the latest recruiting showdown between the Triangle rivals. For elite basketball recruits, hosting two -- or even three -- in-home visits in one day isn't unusual. But Monday marked the final day of the fall contact period, "which heightens the drama of the whole process," Scout.com recruiting analyst Dave Telep said.

Recruiting experts suggest the stakes are high. The school that wins Barnes' allegiance could have the edge when it comes to contending for another national title.

"It's the best kid in the country, and he's probably the best forward prospect since LeBron James in the high school ranks," PrepStars recruiting analyst Brick Oettinger said. "... You have to figure you only keep him two years, but both of those years he gives you a chance at the national championship if you have the caliber of talent in the program that Carolina has or that Duke has or that Kansas has."

In August, Barnes narrowed his list of schools to UNC, Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and Iowa State. Downs said head coaches from all of the programs, except Iowa State, have made in-home visits.

Downs also said Barnes has decided he will make his final decision before Nov. 16, the first day of practice for his high school team.

"Originally, he had planned to wait until after the season, but he shared with me that he wants to wrap it up in November," Downs said.

Barnes made his official visit to UNC last month and is scheduled to visit Duke the weekend of Oct. 23. According to the Des Moines Register, he also will visit UCLA this weekend, Kansas the weekend of Oct. 16, and Iowa State the weekend of Nov. 6.

Duke and UNC have a long history of battling for elite recruits, dating back to Art Heyman, who earned national player of the year during his tenure at Duke in the early 1960s. Now it's Barnes' turn to be wooed simultaneously by both programs. UNC has won two national titles and reached three Final Fours since Duke's last Final Four appearance in 2004. The Blue Devils want to catch up, and Barnes would give them a boost.

"I think [if Barnes chose the Blue Devils] it certainly would help make up the gap and would silence any critics that might say that Duke has not been able to get the recruits they most wanted in recent years, to that extent," All-Star Sports analyst Bob Gibbons said. "But again, I just think he is such an unusually gifted player that the program that wins is going to have an on-court advantage because of his presence."

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

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