NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Oct. 15 issue of CAROLINA: The Magazine.
by Jawad Williams, @WAD216
Fans of Carolina basketball rivalries tend to think that we are 100 percent sworn enemies with players from Duke, NC State and the rest of the competition we face. On the contrary, we are only enemies when we step on the court to face off against each other. Basketball makes the world small, and that means you become friends with people that you would never think you would meet.
When I started playing organized basketball as a fourth grader in Cleveland, I never knew where the game would take me and who it would allow me to meet. Outside of my school team, I played in multiple AAU tournaments all across the country. In these tournaments, I met guys from all across the country as well as guys from different regions of the world. Even though we all came from different backgrounds, we all had one thing in common: the love for the game of basketball.
When I was fighting to make a name for myself on the national scene of amateur basketball, I had to attend multiple camps: Nike All American camp, Adidas All American camp, and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) camp, just to name a few. These camps gave kids the chance to go head to head with the best young athletes in the world.
I always kept tabs on my competition via magazines that ranked the top players. I watched these magazines to make sure my stock was rising, and to study what people said my competitors' strengths and weaknesses were, so when I would get a chance to meet them I had an edge and could play them to their weakness and destroy them!
At the NBPA camp I remember vividly hearing a reading about a loudmouthed, skinny dude named Julius Hodge. "Jules of Harlem on the way to stardom" is how he referred to himself.
My team played against his team on the first day of games. I was super excited! This was my chance to go at the arrogant dude from New York to increase my ranking. Remember, I'm coming from Cleveland, so these big market guys got all the hype.
The game started immediately with elbows and words being exchanged between myself and Jules, even during the jump ball. He said, "Yeah, I heard about you and [I'm] shutting you down today." I replied, "I'm going to kill you and anybody else who faces off with me!"
We traded baskets a majority of the game. I finished with 18 points, and the win. He had 17. After the game, a mutual respect was formed, because neither one of us backed down from the other. The great matchup helped both of us along the rise to become elite high school athletes. We ended up hanging together the rest of the week. By the way, I left the camp rated the top player. Sorry, Jules: If you are not first, you are last, chump!
One of the biggest honors for a high school basketball player is to be named to the McDonald's All American game. I remember watching ESPN waiting for them to name the teams. I was nervous, but confident that I would see my name.
They ran off the East team first, and whose name pops up? Yes, Julius Hodge. Then they named the West. I saw a name and face that I'd seen before: Daniel Ewing, a Duke signee, and then my name.
The game was held at Cameron Indoor Stadium, so all I could think about was how bad I was going to be booed. During check-in, Jules and I wanted to be roommates because we knew each other pretty well. But instead, they made the Dukie, Ewing, my roommate. They put microphones on us immediately to see what would happen in the room. Everything was cool. He turned out to be a cool dude and we remained friends.
To this day I still talk with both of these guys. Jules lives around the corner from me in North Carolina and was my teammate here in Paris along with Sean May. This year, Daniel Ewing is with Sean and me here in Paris. I guess if you can't beat us and want to win, just join us!
Basketball is what we love, and is what we do, but it is not our lives. We keep our rivalries on the court. Well, at least until our alma maters play each other. Then, the bad blood reappears.
Jawad Williams (UNC '05) started at forward for the 2005 NCAA championship Tar Heel squad and has spent nearly the last decade playing professionally in the NBA and overseas.