Grant Hill played for Coach K. Now he has to call Duke's Final Four game vs. North Carolina.
As a television analyst, Grant Hill knows it cannot get any better for TBS than having Duke and North Carolina meet in an NCAA men’s basketball tournament semifinal on Saturday night.
As a Duke alumnus, he knows it is, well, complicated.
“Whoever wins in that game, it’ll be the ultimate of highs,” Hill said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “For whoever loses, it’ll be the ultimate loss.”
That is because the teams have the most storied rivalry in college basketball, because they never before have met in the NCAAs and because on March 5, Carolina beat Duke, 94-81, in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That is some serious subplot – and baggage – for the current players. Hill believes it could affect both teams.
“I’m sure there's a lot of emotion swirling,” he said. “Carolina beat Duke in Coach K's last game at Cameron. There's sort of that feeling of maybe wanting to avenge that loss. But there's a lot of different ways you could look at it.
“I think the stage and the scrutiny and the microscope and the magnitude of the Final Four is unlike anything else, and then you throw on top of that it’s your rival from six miles down the road. So I think both teams are going to feel that weight, that burden, that pressure.
“But in a weird kind of way, I think both teams embrace it, and they want that. They want nothing more than to beat the other.”
Hill won two championships and reached three championship games at Duke from 1990-94, so he naturally has an affinity for the school and its coach.
“On a personal note, obviously, the relationship, experiences I've had with Coach K having played for him, it is bittersweet in a lot of ways,” Hill said of Krzyzewski’s planned retirement.
“It's great that he's on this incredible run, and his team's grown up right before our eyes on this particular stage. To go into the Final Four and to play against the ultimate rival or in the ultimate rivalry against North Carolina, one, it’s hard to believe that they've never played each other before in a tournament game, but it's also fitting in a lot of ways.
“It's also fitting that we get this treat as basketball fans, as broadcasters, to have these two great schools compete against one another in Coach K's last run.”
Hill has called many Duke games in his television career and does not expect to have any trouble staying neutral.
“I have a job to do,” he said. “When Carolina won, those great teams with Joel Berry and [Justin] Jackson [in 2017], I was genuinely excited for those kids, which is almost sacrilegious as a Blue Devil to say that.
“But as you get to know them, you get to study them, you learn their stories, you have a responsibility to call the game and give them that moment that I was fortunate to have 30 years ago, and to honor and celebrate that moment if and when it happens.”