Carlos Boozer and other members of the Bulls will be in the United Center, but for many of them it will be the first time they will watch as fans.
No. 1 Kentucky, No. 2 Michigan State, No. 4 Duke and No. 5 Kansas all will participate in the Champions Classic tonight at the United Center in what is widely considered to be one of the most competitive double-headers in recent memory.
Tom Izzo’s Spartans match up with the freshmen-laden Wildcats in the opener, followed by Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks squaring off against Chicago native Jabari Parker and the Blue Devils in the nightcap.
For Boozer, a Duke alum, Tuesday night will be a chance for the 11-year veteran to stay at home and watch his alma mater and head coach match up against one of the players and teams in the country, which was one of the main reasons he chose to attend Duke.
“That’s the reason you come to Duke. You want to play against the best competition. That’s the reason why you go here, to be on a stage where every game matters, every game counts,” Boozer said. “You get coached by the best coach in basketball and you get to go against the best competition at the collegiate level.”
Boozer enjoyed plenty of success as a Blue Devil, averaging 14.9 points and 7.2 in his three years, winning the national championship as a sophomore.
“College is so much fun. Every game is down to the wire, Final Four experience – for those that haven’t got the chance to experience the Final Four, there’s nothing like it,” Boozer said. “You’ve got the four best teams going at it for one title. It’s exciting. Even when I’m watching now, I’m excited for those players. And when you go to the league, you can never go back.”
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the current Blue Devils were in attendance for the Bulls’ 96-81 win over the Cavaliers on Monday night, and Boozer had a chance to catch up with his old coach.
But Boozer isn’t the only Duke alum currently in Chicago. Current teammate Mike Dunleavy is in his first year with the Bulls, and Boozer said he had fond memories of the time he shared with him in Durham as a teammate on that championship team.
The two were part of the same recruiting class, and Boozer said he remembers fondly Dunleavy’s performance in the 2001 National Championship game, when the sharpshooter scored 21 points, including five 3-pointers. Boozer added 12 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in the 82-72 win.
“Me and Mike (Dunleavy) played together in college,” Boozer said. “This is the first time we’ve played together in the NBA, and I watched (Luol Deng) when I got to the NBA and I was excited for him how he’s progressed at an NBA player. They make our team better. They’re both tall wings that can play offense and defense and make plays for us. It’s exciting to have some fellow Dukies on the team.”
Deng played one season for the Blue Devils, averaging 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds before declaring for the NBA Draft.
On the flip side, Kirk Hinrich also will be rooting on the Jayhawks, while Marquis Teague and Nazr Mohammed will be in attendance with Big Blue Nation, cheering on the Wildcats. Boozer said there was some friendly trash-talking going on between he and Hinrich as their two schools ready for battle.
“We talked about it a little bit already, and obviously he’s a big-time Kansas guy and I’m a big-time Duke guy,” Boozer said. “So something’s got to give.”