How Duke Signing Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones Impacts Rivalry with North Carolina

Todd SalemContributor IIINovember 18, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 24:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on dejected against the Kansas Jayhawks during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 24, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

In an unprecedented turn of recruiting events, two of the nation's top five high school players committed to the same university, even though they had never played high school or AAU ball together.

2014 No. 1 overall prospect and top center Jahlil Okafor and No. 4 overall prospect and top point guard Tyus Jones both wanted to play together in college, and they got their wish.

Bypassing the likes of Kansas, the two announced their intention to play for the Duke Blue Devils for the upcoming 2014-2015 NCAA basketball season, citing on the ESPNU telecast of their decision that they "just wanted the best opportunity to win."

This is huge news in the broad spectrum of recruiting. Kentucky had been the only school able to nab multiple top recruits in recent years but this package deal was unprecedented—Okafor and Jones have never played organized ball together.

Duke and Coach Mike Krzyzewski made a statement, especially after obtaining Jabari Parker for the 2013 season. Duke is becoming a force in territory they didn't used to dabble in.

This is terrible news for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Whether fairly or not, the two Carolina schools each have heavy stereotypes to go along with their healthy rivalry. Duke, under Coach K, is thought of as the place for college kids. Blue Devil players go to Duke for multiple seasons, learn and grow as basketball players, win (win a lot), and never become stars in the NBA.

This feeling grew and bloomed in the 1990s when the likes of Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Cherokee Parks, Trajon Langdon and Jay Williams went from NCAA stars to NBA scrubs. Even the "good" Duke pros in that time frame (Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Shane Battier) seemed underwhelming for various reasons, including injuries in the cases of Hill and Brand. 

North Carolina, on the other hand, is the place for something else. Tar Heel players, especially under Roy Williams, are fast and athletic, perhaps a bit reckless and are better suited for the pros. This label actually started well before Williams was even coach, but he seems to get credit for the style nonetheless.

In the 90s, while Duke players were fizzling in the NBA, Carolina produced the following All-Stars in the last few years of that decade alone: Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter.

These two archetypes are obviously not all-encompassing, nor have they been all that accurate in recent years. But the fact still remains that Duke is thought of as the place for four-year college stars to max out, while UNC is where future NBA talent goes to thrive. 

There are currently 15 NBA players who attended the University of North Carolina. However, the belief that Duke is not a place for pros and top prospects is deteriorating, and fast. Duke currently has 14 NBA professionals of its own. With the signings of Okafor and Jones, they've also staked a claim as the hotbed for the high school elite in this rivalry.

So where does that leave North Carolina?

Coach Williams can no longer sweet talk young men by proving UNC is a better avenue for them than Duke may be. It is no longer the case. Duke has had a better recruiting class than Carolina three of the last four years (counting 2014).

Coach Williams also cannot point to the professional ranks and say his school will get them there at a better clip; the difference is inconsequential at this point. 

Even when the product on the floor was better at Duke, North Carolina fans could point to other places to show they had the edge. Now, while the team at Duke is clearly better at the moment, the future is also brighter. North Carolina is caught between a rock and a hard place or, more accurately, between Krzyzewski and failure.