This past weekend, the Phoenix Suns came into L.A. looking to capitalize on a pair of games against the city’s two hometown franchises. While the Lakers would hand them a crushing 3OT loss this past Tuesday, two days earlier, the Suns were busy mopping up the Blakers for a nice 108-99 win at Staples Center. This was also the same Sunday that both Duke and North Carolina were fortunate enough to escape serious second-round upset bids from both Michigan and Washington, respectively. After the Suns’ victory over the Clippers, we were able to catch up with one of Tobacco Road’s most famed alums, Vince Carter, to get his take on the NCAA Tournament thus far.
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A handful of lockers away from Grant Hill, his Phoenix teammate Carter had to wait until after Sunday’s Clippers-Suns game to hear about his alma mater’s win over Washington.
“We won?” he asks quickly.
Learning about the Heels’ win from a writer is far from how Carter usually gets his Tar Heel information, preferring to stay in contact with former players and, when given the opportunity, Coach Roy Williams’ staff and current UNC players.
“There’s really only one team I’m really interested in,” says Carter, who left Chapel Hill for the NBA in 1998 after three years. “I’m good friends with Roy Williams, he’s a very good friend. We keep in touch with the old, the former guys whether it’s through text or Twitter. We’re excited about our team, we love our team.”
Though Carter, Hill and former Syracuse national champion Hakim Warrick said no locker room bets were on the line, the tournament intensifies the friendly college rivalries that buzz throughout the year. Carter earned bragging rights with former teammate Morris Peterson and friend Plaxico Burress when North Carolina beat Michigan State for the NCAA title in 2009. Carter watched that game at Ford Field in Detroit and spoke with the team during the Final Four. Usually, he said, he doesn’t like to interrupt the Tar Heels’ preparation in the Tournament. But it doesn’t mean he’s not a very interested observer.
“Hopefully we can get to that Final Four. We’ve got to break the tie (of national titles),” says Carter, with a nod toward Hill’s locker. “It’s friendly competition. We go back and forth and Grant and I go back and forth, but we still have respect for the players on the team.
“I really like their game and their point guard in Kyrie Irving when he’s been healthy. I really like his game. Nolan Smith, we talked about I think they’re very good, and (Hill) really likes Harrison Barnes on our team. So I mean, we want our schools to win, but at the same time we have respect for each other’s schools as well.”
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