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February 9, 2011
Freshmen gear up for Cameron
Five years ago, a group of baby-faced Tar Heels led by a freshman named Tyler Hansbrough stormed into Cameron Indoor Stadium and defeated No. 1 Duke led by seniors J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams.
On Wednesday, another group of North Carolina freshmen will look to upset a different pair of Blue Devil seniors, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.
"I'm very anxious," said freshman point guard Kendall Marshall. "I remember my first start I was extremely nervous, but I haven't felt that at all for this game. It's more anxiety and excited to play."
"First place in the conference, bragging rights, it's just a lot of little things that you look forward to," he added.
Marshall, who committed to North Carolina his sophomore year of high school, was not recruited by Duke.
Fellow-freshman Harrison Barnes, on the other hand, chose North Carolina over the Durham school by calling coach Roy Williams over Skype.
Blue Devil fans surely haven't forgotten that one.
"I'm sure it'll be a warm welcome tomorrow," Barnes joked.
"We know it's gonna be quite a reception," Williams said. "It was quite a response last year when he made the decision."
Barnes will likely guard Singler in a battle of Pre-Season All Americans that could go a long way in deciding this game.
It is a match up that a couple of weeks ago was seemingly one-sided, as Singler was playing like a Naismith Player of the Year candidate while Barnes was struggling with his jump shot.
But Barnes has led the team in scoring in each of the last three games, while averaging over 22 points on 56 percent shooting, making the match up with Singler far more intriguing.
"Kyle's a great player," Barnes said. "He's been there for four years. It'll be a test for me trying to guard him."
What makes this game particularly meaningful for this group of North Carolina freshmen is the relationship they share with some of the Duke freshmen.
Marshall and Duke guard Tyler Thornton grew up just miles apart and played against each other several times in high school. He was AAU teammates with Blue Devil sophomore guard Andre Dawkins.
Barnes and Duke guard Kyrie Irving-who has been sidelined since Dec. 4 and will miss the game with a toe injury-have developed a close relationship over the past couple of years, and in the North Carolina media guide, Barnes even lists Irving as his best friend on another team.
And before last year's McDonald's All-American game, Marshall, Barnes, fellow UNC freshman Reggie Bullock and Irving were filmed jokingly talking trash.
But for two hours, these friendships will be put aside, and these 18-and-19-year-olds will be introduced to what many consider the greatest rivalry in sports.
"I don't really have a reason to hate them. I respect them," Marshall said.
"But I also going to make them respect me on the court."