DeCock: On draft night, Rivers' big shot merely a memory

luke.decock@newsobserver.comJune 29, 2012 

When Austin Rivers was drafted 10th overall by the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday, the very last clip ESPN showed was of his shot against North Carolina in February.

It was the best angle, the low angle, from behind, where Rivers moves laterally before shooting and the ball seems to float impossibly high, over Tyler Zeller, and drop vertically through the net.

For anyone who remembers only that shocking shot in Chapel Hill, a group that no doubt includes many, if not most, of the viewers watching the draft nationally, it must look like a pivotal moment: such a dramatic conclusion between two such fierce and fervent rivals – particularly as players on the floor that night dominated the opening two hours of the draft.

Funny thing is, as six players from that game went in the first round Thursday night, that shot is about the only thing from that game that remains memorable.

Despite the loss, North Carolina went on to win the regular-season ACC title, in part by winning the rematch at Duke. Despite the win, Duke went out in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Despite the high stakes that night, both teams were knocked out of the ACC tournament by Florida State. Despite their resumes, with five players from that game going in the top 17 on Thursday, all three ended their college careers with a certain lack of fulfillment.

Rivers, Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and John Henson never made it to a Final Four, although Zeller and Miles Plumlee won national titles as underclassman.

The draft was more fulfilling. On draft night, Barnes ended up with only a surprisingly narrow edge over Rivers, going seventh to the Golden State Warriors. (One pick behind Damian Lillard in another Weber State upset of North Carolina.)

Marshall went 13th to the Phoenix Suns, Henson 14th to the Milwaukee Bucks and Zeller 17th to the Dallas Mavericks who quickly swapped him to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he’ll end up on the end of plenty of Kyrie Irving passes. Plumlee went 26th to the Indiana Pacers.

By the time Zeller was picked, Roy Williams was sitting in the green-room area with four different hats. It was quite a haul, four players from North Carolina and one from Duke, making up a giant chunk of the first half (and change) of the first round.

The draft verified what everyone knew at the time: There was so much talent on the floor that night, and it generated an epochal finish, with the Blue Devils storming back from 10 points down in the final 21/2 minutes before Rivers completed the comeback.

Another one of ESPN’s Rivers clips was from that game as well, with Rivers, guarded by Barnes, using a jab step to clear space and pulling up for a jump shot, but the network saved the best for last, the biggest shot of the ACC season.

On video, as part of a draft broadcast, that shot feels like an earth-shaking moment. Heck, that night it felt like it, the foundation of the ACC season slip-sliding away. It never did.

On this night, it still ranks as the best game of the ACC season, and the shot is still a great moment, but just that – a moment.

DeCock: luke.decock@newsobserver.com, (919) 829-8947, Twitter: @LukeDeCock

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