Updated 2 years ago
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Austin Rivers insists he still loves North Carolina, even after the nation's most sought-after recruit shunned the Tar Heels for Duke.
Rivers could change his mind once he's introduced to the fierce rivalry next season, but Saturday night he gets to be on the same team with future Tar Heels James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston in the Jordan Brand Classic.
"I know their games. They're just two great players going to a program where there's a lot of other great players," Rivers said after practice Friday. "Carolina's going to be real deep next year especially with all those people returning. They're going to be a heck of a ballclub. We're going to be good as well. We'll be ranked right up there, top five I think, preseason."
While the game features four players headed to Kentucky - Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, Michael Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer - the North Carolina-Duke clash has become the focus of the event's 10th anniversary in part by the shift from New York to Time Warner Cable Arena.
The facility is operated by the most famous ex-Tar Heel and the man behind the Nike division that sponsors the game, Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan.
"Knowing that he went to UNC, there's a jumpman (logo) on my chest and I'm basically wearing Carolina blue right now, it's a real good experience," said Hairston, from nearby Greensboro.
Duke recruit Mike Gbinije also will play on Rivers' East team. Kentucky, Syracuse, with Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas, and the Tobacco Road rivals are the only schools with multiple players.
"A lot of people always talk about the rivalry and, 'Oh, I hate North Carolina if you go to Duke.' I love North Carolina as well," said Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "At the end of the day I almost went there. I love both schools."
But Duke won the services of the 6-foot-4 guard from Winter Park, Fla., who was the McDonald's and Naismith Foundation's national player of the year. And the Blue Devils expect to lean on him heavily after the departure of seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, and Kyrie Irving's decision to enter the NBA draft.
"I'm more of a scorer than even he is. I can score the ball," Rivers said of Irving. "If he was there he'd be playing point (guard) and I'd be playing (shooting guard). Now that he's not there it's a bigger step for me because now I don't have a Nolan Smith and a Kyle Singler there to take the load off. But they have some great pieces."
North Carolina likely will be even deeper, however, after big men John Henson and Tyler Zeller decided to stay in school. Forward Harrison Barnes has yet to announce his decision.
The 6-8 McAdoo, of Norfolk, Va., will create even more depth - and a tussle for minutes.
"Other guys I know might look at that as, 'Man, I'm never going to play.' I'm just looking at it like I'm happy, I'm excited," McAdoo said. "Just practicing against those guys every day and learning from them off the court. Plus, if all three of them would have left, I would have been the tallest guy on the team."
The week of practices and off-court events has produced the expected trash talk between the new Duke and North Carolina recruits, with players also sizing up their future competition.
"When I was at the Chapel Hill-Duke game at the end of the regular season when the crowd stormed the crowd, just seeing that scene and knowing how much I'd like it if I never lost to Duke," McAdoo said. "There's been a little jawing, but it's all talk.
We'll see who shows up next year when we do play each other."
Despite the move to Charlotte, Jordan's involvement in the game has been muted some since he became majority owner of the Bobcats last year.
"There are some minor things that we just need to do to ensure we're not creating any competitive disadvantage," said Keith Houlemard, president of Jordan Brand. "Where he is as an NBA owner, we wouldn't call Michael and say, 'What players do you want in the game?"'
Jordan, who is expected to attend, still will get a good look at next fall's reinforcements at his alma mater and biggest rival.
"I think this is a little bit more competitive because there's a Jordan logo on your chest," Rivers said. "You're representing the best player in the game."