Fans gear up for Duke-UNC showdown, an important one off court, too

Michael Perchick Image
Saturday, February 3, 2024
Fans gear up for Duke-UNC showdown, an important one off court, too
Fevery around the first Duke-UNC basketball game extends to more than just bragging rights.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Friday afternoon, customers flocked into Classic Carolina to scoop up all things Tar Heels ahead of Saturday's game against Duke. For manager Krystal Chellani, it's a match-up that evokes fond memories.

"It's always been really crazy around here, especially with the business. It would just be all of us coming and working here. My dad, my brother, my mom and me and my sister as well. It would just be all of us in here kind of running the show. And then we would always do celebrations here and there, go out on Franklin Street, watch the game and celebrate just because it's such an exciting time for all of us," said Chellani.

Her father Dhruva, who came to the United States from India with just $20 in his pocket, founded the store on Franklin Street. Originally, he focused on women's apparel before shifting his attention.

"Slowly over time, he started gearing toward the college students in the area and wanted to get a lot of college merchandise. All the students liked it. It became really popular," said Chellani.

READ MORE: Duke, UNC set to renew basketball rivalry Saturday in Chapel Hill

It's become a Franklin Street staple, one which he was preparing to pass on to his son Kris.

However, in September, Dhruva and Kris were killed in a car crash.

"The past four months they've been really hard on all of us. Of course, it's still hard to believe what's happened with the tragedy in my family. I keep thinking they'll just walk through the door any second, so that's been really difficult. We're all just trying to find a way to get through it. But I think just being here every day and makes me feel closer to them," said Chellani, who now serves as manager.

The family re-opened the store in late November, with pictures of Dhruva and Kris hanging from the ceiling toward the entrance.

"It's a game unlike any other," said Jay Bilas of ESPN GameDay. Bilas knows firsthand having played for Duke in the rivalry.

"My dad spent 30 years building this business and I didn't just want it to be thrown away, and my brother worked really hard on the renovation, so I did reopen it just because I wanted to carry on for them," said Chellani.

She credited the outpouring of support from the community, as they've navigated their busiest sports season.

"A lot of people have been coming to the store and showing support, of course, and telling stories about my dad and my brother and what kind of people they were. So it's really heartwarming to hear that," Chellani said.

Saturday's showdown marks the first time both teams are ranked in the Top 10 since March 2019.

"You can take away a lot of things, but you can't take away the history," said UNC fan Dennis Garrett about the Tobacco Road rivalry's continued importance amongst a shifting college sports landscape.

Andrew Carter with the News & Observer talks about the best rivalry in college sports and previews his upcoming article on the topic.

Garrett's cars feature the team's colors, and a man cave inside his home is dedicated to his favorite team. Full of pictures, memorabilia, apparel, and newspaper clippings, the lifelong fan's love of the Tar Heels naturally extends to his son.

"You grow up, you see the (Carolina) blue looks beautiful," said his son, Dennis Dennis Garrett Jr.

Dennis and his son lead Love & Respect Recovery, a Durham advocacy group.

"We primarily deal with substance abuse. We do crime intervention, gang intervention. Stop the violence," said Garrett, who works largely with youth and adolescents.

Garrett said his personal experience motivated him to help others.

"I am a justice-involved individual. I come from the streets. I come from a very good family. However, taking that wrong turn makes me understand that we've got choices. Every day we wake up with a chance and a choice," said Garrett.

Appropriately, the Love & Respect Recovery building is painted Carolina blue. For Garrett, sports are a key outlet for youth to focus their energy on.

"If we don't give them a new way to think, they're not going to have a new way to live. So are we closing the doors to all of these rec centers and they don't get an opportunity to showcase their talent? They don't get an opportunity to express themselves in other ways. Sometimes they're just looking for attention. So if is good or bad, it don't matter. Negative attention, (they think) 'I'm just getting some attention,'" said Garrett, who credited the work of former Duke star and NBA Hall-of-Famer Grant Hill's community outreach work.

UNC is a perfect 9-0 at home this season, though it has lost the last two times against Duke at the Smith Center. Last year, Duke swept the season series, beating UNC 63-57 at home, before knocking off the Heels 62-57 on the road. The low-scoring affairs marked the first time since 2010 that UNC did not crack 60 points in either match-up against Duke and the lowest point total for a winning team since March 8, 2002, when Duke beat UNC 60-48 in the ACC Tournament.

At 9-1 in the ACC, UNC remains in first place in the conference, with Duke 1 1/2 games behind with a 7-2 conference record. According to the latest projections by ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, UNC is listed as a No. 1 seed and the defending ACC champion Blue Devils listed as a No. 3 seed.

The teams will also meet for the regular season finale at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 9.