North Carolina at No. 18 N.C. State 7 p.m. ESPN

Strickland's quote adds new spice to UNC-N.C. State rivalry

Strickland’s opinion adds new spice to old rivalry

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 26, 2013 

— Dexter Strickland didn’t put much thought into the words. Not at first. He just said what came to mind and, besides, where he comes from it’s no big deal to talk a little, anyway.

“From my area, where I’m from, we always talk trash,” Strickland, a New Jersey native, said in October.

Not long before, during an interview with a national college basketball reporter, Strickland, the junior guard at North Carolina, was asked for his reaction to all the preseason attention that N.C. State had received – all the hype, all the premature coronation.

Was the Wolfpack worthy of it? Strickland didn’t hesitate.

“They talk those guys up every single year and we beat them every single year,” Strickland told CBSSports.com. “They are the least of our worries. Beat us one year and then they can talk smack. Until then, you can’t put them in the mix.”

Strickland didn’t think much about what he said until his comments went live online. He was asleep one morning and awoke to find his cell phone flooded with messages and mentions on Twitter.

“And I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness,’” he said.

The comments had gone viral. Blogs. Message boards. Twitter. During the past three months, Strickland often has been reminded of his words, and it’s assured he will be Saturday night when the Tar Heels travel to No. 18 N.C. State.

In the moments after UNC’s victory against Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, Strickland sat outside the Tar Heels locker room and smiled when he thought about his preseason comments. He didn’t regret those words and, if anything, seemed to embrace all the commotion they’ve caused.

“My comments that I made just spiced the game up a little bit,” he said with a grin.

There was a time when bulletin board material remained true to its name. People tacked motivational words to a piece of cork, and there they hung.

There is no longer a need for pushpins, though. Strickland’s comments quickly traveled far, and some N.C. State fans took to Twitter to let Strickland know they didn’t appreciate his analysis of the UNC-N.C. State basketball rivalry.

Strickland said earlier this week that he has continued to hear from Wolfpack fans. One in particular writes to him several times per week on Twitter, counting down the days until UNC’s visit to PNC Arena.

“He gets excited, like, every day,” Strickland said Wednesday. “Every single day. He hit me up today saying it’s three days left, so he’s pretty hyped for the game. I’m pretty sure he’ll be front row.”

That’s what Ryan Forcina hopes, anyway. A student at N.C. State, Forcina has directed 57 tweets to Strickland during the past three months. Many derided Strickland’s ability as a jump shooter and in one, Forcina wrote, simply, “You’re a scrub bro.”

Forcina said he wanted to be “relentless” in his response to Strickland’s commentary.

“I personally think I’m already in his head,” Forcina said during a phone interview Friday.

Strickland, who hasn’t scored more than six points in any ACC game, would likely disagree. UNC coach Roy Williams disagrees, too, with the notion that Strickland’s comments would mean anything Saturday.

Strickland earlier this week said that after his controversial comments, he never heard from Williams. He suggested that Williams might have even approved of them.

But Williams didn’t, necessarily.

“Oh, I probably wish he hadn’t done it,” he said on Friday. “But, I mean, – do you guys think that it’s going to make North Carolina-North Carolina State any bigger a game? I think it has zero effect on the game. Zero effect. This just gives people things to talk about.”

Still, did Williams like the confidence? Could he appreciate that, at least?

“I like it when you back it up,” he said. “But I’m a guy that, you know, [to] some of my [golf] buddies I say, ‘I’m going to beat you today.’ But you know, I don’t say that very often … but it doesn’t accomplish anything.”

He went on, and directed what he said next to the reporters in front of him: “It just gives you guys a job. So you guys should like it.”

Indeed, Strickland’s words were in part a media creation, and the media drove some of the reaction to those words. On a deeper level, though, they’re reflective of a perception that exists about N.C. State – that while the Wolfpack might be in the same neighborhood, they’re still not in the same league as UNC and Duke.

Strickland’s words upset some Wolfpack fans, but N.C. State players brushed them off earlier this week.

“That’s perfectly fine,” said Lorenzo Brown, the N.C. State point guard. “He has his reasons for why he’s saying that. I mean, we haven’t beaten them. It’s a new year, we’ll see.”

Players on both teams have experienced nothing other than what they’ve always experienced. For UNC, victories. For N.C. State, defeats.

The Tar Heels have beaten the Wolfpack 13 consecutive times. UNC has beaten N.C. State in 13 of the past 16 games in Raleigh. Overall, the Heels have defeated the Pack in 36 of the past 44 meetings.

UNC’s dominance long ago knocked the luster off the rivalry. Williams, UNC’s coach, remembers a different time – back when the significance of the UNC-N.C. State rivalry was equal, if not superior, to the one between UNC and Duke.

“My guys, they think Michael Jordan invented the game,” Williams said. “You know, that’s as far back as they go, and they have to see black and white photos to see a bunch of that. They don’t know anything about what happened with Everett Case and Frank McGuire and Dean Smith and Jim Valvano.”

Williams said, joking, that he wished UNC didn’t have any rivals, and that the Tar Heels just dominated “everybody all the time.”

But then he turned serious about a series that perhaps has meant more to him than any other over the years.

“It’s not as important to other people as it is to me, there’s no question about that,” Williams said of UNC-N.C. State. “But to have North Carolina and North Carolina State, Duke, all three really good I think is great for the ACC.”

It will take time before N.C. State’s resurgence rejuvenates a series that has lost some of its meaning over the years. If anything, though, Strickland’s words pumped some life back into a rivalry that hasn’t been much of one on the court.

Staff writer Joe Giglio contributed to this report.

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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