Former president Barack Obama may be among the packed crowds for one of the most anticipated college basketball games of the season.
Obama, according to multiple reports, will attend the game between Zion Williamson’s No. 1 Duke Blue Devils and No. 8 North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium at 9 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN). His expected presence was reported by Inside Carolina, citing ESPN’s Jay Williams, and Adam Zagoria, but Duke officials have declined to confirm or deny those reports.
Michael Schoenfeld, the school’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, declined to comment for the Duke Chronicle. Jon Jackson, deputy director of athletics, and Mike DeGeorge, director of sports information, did not reply to requests for comment. However, the News & Observer reports that unusual security precautions are in place, with media entering Cameron for a news conference involving Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski and two players being asked to preregister for the event and have identification checked by security personnel.
“I never know who is coming,” Krzyzewski said Tuesday. “I try not to let that be what I’m thinking of. Look, anybody can show up here because it is a bucket list thing. It’s a bucket list just to come to a game in Cameron. But Duke and Carolina at Cameron is one of those great sporting events. So we can expect anything here."
North Carolina Coach Roy Williams told the media that he had other things on his mind. “I love him, but if he is coming to the game, I’m sorry Mr. President, but I am not going to be looking at you,” he said. “And I do love him. I thought he was great for our country. But during that game, it’s ‘frankly my dear’ and you can fill out the rest. There are always a lot of people that come to the game, big names. Peyton Manning used to come to the game.”
Williams added that President Trump attended the Duke-UNC game in 2005, when he was a private citizen, and “was down on our end. I’m still not inviting him.”
The game is a hot ticket, with Cameron’s capacity listed as 9,314. StubHub listed the cheapest tickets available Wednesday morning at more than $3,000. The game is the first between the rivals since the ACC tournament last March, when UNC won, 74-69. This season, Williamson has become must-see, averaging 22.4 points and 9.2 rebounds a game.
Basketball remains an important way for the former president to promote social change. He joined the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry on Tuesday at an event in Oakland marking the fifth anniversary of My Brother’s Keeper, the organization started after the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Over the weekend, the NBA announced a partnership with FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, to create the Basketball Africa League, set to debut in 2020. Obama, according to the Associated Press, is “among those who are expected to have direct involvement with the league’s plan to keep growing the game in Africa through the league and other initiatives.”
“I’ve always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to more than the sum of its parts,” Obama tweeted Saturday, with his role still to be defined. “Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court.”
Obama, as the Chronicle noted, is no stranger to either Duke or North Carolina. He scrimmaged with the Tar Heels while running for president in 2008 and played regularly with Reggie Love, a longtime aide who played for Duke’s 2001 national championship team.
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