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When Rivalry Meets Family

By Jayden Simmons

My favorite thing about college sports are the fanbases. Alumni, rowdy students, and fans of the purest form of the game can gravitate towards a college team that represents them.

It wouldn’t be college sports without rivalry, which can create memorable moments and crazy interactions. But what happens when college rivalry intertwines with sibling rivalry?

My dad, Gary Simmons, and his twin brother Greg, are both New Yorkers who moved to South Carolina at age 10. Being huge basketball fans, they ended up on opposite sides of the biggest basketball rivalry in the Carolinas, Duke vs North Carolina.

“When you grow up a twin, everyone expects you to like the same thing yo,” said Greg, who is a Duke fan (like me). He said part of him becoming a fan of the Blue Devils was because they were rivals with UNC, which all of his brothers supported.

Funnily enough, their brothers also influenced Gary to root for the Tar Heels. “My older brother bought me the Michael Jordan ‘Come Fly With Me’ tape at like age 6. We were just getting into basketball then, and that tape showed us Jordan’s journey and his college choice. Seeing that game winner over Pat Ewing and Georgetown over and over again.”

The twins weren’t too aware of how intense the rivalry was early on. “I didn’t even know where Duke was when I became a fan,” joked Greg. “All I knew was their games were always hyped up. Then when we moved to South Carolina in 1990 the hype really hit, since there’s no pro teams in SC I would see Duke play all the time.”

Being the controversial writer I am, I had to poke the bear and ask the two who they thought was the greatest coach in college basketball, and their answers were exactly what you’d expect.

“I think Dean Smith was the best coach,” said Gary. “He was responsible for integrating UNC basketball. The things he stood for were excellent. And the players he coached up? Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Antwan Jamison, just so many great players. No disrespect towards Coach K, but without Dean Smith there is no Coach K.”

“I’m not gonna knock my brother’s answer, but I think Coach K is the best coach. I got to see his entire career blossom from his first championship to today. You can see it from who showed up to his final game. From Chris Duhon to Jay Williams, Grant Hill to Zion Williamson. Yes, Dean Smith is the reason that Coach K is Coach K, but Coach K is a standout in his own right,” said Greg.

Recently, the twins had a HEATED discussion on a group call with their older brother about the talent that the programs put into the league, and I wanted to give them a chance to argue their case a bit.

“Duke has put more superstars in the league in the last decade…but Duke is an institution because of Coach K, so they always have top recruiting classes simply from that exposure,” said a passionate Gary. “Coach K adapted from creating great basketball players to cultivating a one-and-done program. Dean Smith never had a one-and-done, Roy Williams only had 5. So I was saying UNC pros have a lot of staying power because they got acclimated to a stable program. Sure, Duke has the quantity of players in the league but UNC has the higher quality pros. For every Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum, there's Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley.”

Greg was very matter-of-fact in his response. “When we started beating UNC in the 90s all of their fans used the argument ‘y’all don’t have no pros.’ Yes, Duke benefitted once they implemented the one-and-done rule but they also had a ton of players who stayed. Shane Battier, Jay Williams, JJ Redick, Elton Brand. And we’ve caught up to UNC in terms of production, so that argument is dead now.”

Now these two programs are pretty storied, and as fans for nearly 30 years I had to ask which title teams were their favorites, Gary’s being the 1993 Tar Heels and Greg’s being the 2001 Blue Devils.

Brotherly love aside, they still have their hated players on the opposing sides. “I hated Tyler Hansborough and being a Bulls fan, him going to the Pacers made him even more insufferable,” said Greg. “My least favorite Dukie is Grayson Allen without question.”

A sibling rivalry crossing sports is an interesting dynamic, and honestly it makes the games more fun. As a Duke fan myself, my dad said “ya can’t win 'em all,” but made a promise to turn my uncle’s five year old son into a Tar Heel fan in the future.

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