There is room for both “The Brotherhood” and the “Carolina Family” in college basketball, Jason Capel is sure of this.
“Why not?” asked Capel, who occupies a unique intersection between the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels.
Capel, who helped North Carolina reach the Final Four in 2000, is the younger brother of Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel, who starred for the Blue Devils in the mid-1990s.
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That means the Capels are family but not in the same basketball “family” and they are brothers but not in the same “#Brotherhood” (that’s with a hashtag and a capital “B.”)
Capel, who’s now working as a college basketball analyst for ESPN, doesn’t quite get the hate for Duke’s new spin on Dean Smith’s concept of the basketball family.
And that’s not just because his older brother, Duke’s ace recruiter, helped come up with the social-media marketing concept in 2015.
What’s a little artistic license between rivals? OK, maybe it’s petty theft.
“Yeah, they stole it but they’re intelligent, they gave it a new name,” UNC coach Roy Williams said earlier this week, without hint of anger.
The concepts are similar, Capel said, but this is a case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.
“It’s about having pride in your university and the players, who come before and after you, who put the jersey on,” Capel said.
“At the core of it, what coach Smith did was treat everyone in the program — from the best players to the managers — the same. If every school were to do that, I think college basketball would be a much healthier place.”
Zion Williamson and peak Brotherhood
In a perfect world, Capel is right but healthy is not always an apt descriptions of fans’ behavior on social media, not after high school senior Zion Williamson picked Duke over UNC and a few other schools on Jan. 20.
It was the way the 6-6 forward from Spartanburg, S.C., who is ranked as the third-best prospect in the class of 2018, let the ESPN audience know he would be joining Duke’s recruiting class, which had already included the top two high school players in the country.
“In the fall of 2018, I will continue my basketball journey as … ” Williamson said and then paused to reach under a table for a Duke hat. “… I will be joining The Brotherhood of Duke University.”
If eye rolls in Chapel Hill could drown out the cheers in Durham they would have. Williamson’s decision stunned recruiting insiders, who had guessed he would stay in-state and go to Clemson, and irritated the jilted fan bases.
Insults flowed on social media, in both directions between the Duke and Carolina fans. (Although both coaches, and for the most part players, remain as congenial as possible inside the rivalry.)
“I try not to get into what I call the Twitter world, where each day is the end,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I mean, holy mackerel, how am I going to do tomorrow?”
Sound advice from the soon to be 71-year-old hall-of-fame coach but Williamson’s decision wasn’t just a social-media win for Duke. It was a triple gut-punch for the Tar Heels: not only did they miss out on a talented player but he picked Duke and he specifically cited “The Brotherhood” slogan — a takeoff of Carolina’s own concept — as the primary reason.
Krzyzewski doesn’t think the “Brotherhood” and “family” concepts have become an extension of the on-court rivalry.
“No one is saying that one is better than anyone else’s,” Krzyzewski said.
Eh, not exactly.
Connected for life
Duke’s current NBA players, who have really pushed “The Brotherhood” concept on Twitter and Instagram, were quick to celebrate the recruiting victory.
Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, who spent one injury-shortened season at Duke in 2010-11, was asked about Williamson the day after Williamson’s announcement in January.
“That’s what we do, baby, The Brotherhood,” Irving said.
Irving said he was encouraged that Williamson, who is expected to be a one-and-done player like Irving, specifically mentioned The Brotherhood.
"It's just awesome to hear that when Zion was speaking, he spoke on the Duke brotherhood,” Irving said. “It's a strong bond we all have and we're connected for life."
Irving represents part of the issue that rubs those on the UNC side the wrong way. There is no such thing as a new idea, Mark Twain was right, so Duke co-opting a concept that Smith genuinely nurtured during his 36-year tenure in Chapel Hill is not necessarily an issue.
The real issue is how strong is a bond for a player whose college experience lasts nine months? Irving, who has become of the best players in the NBA, only played 11 games for Duke.
He’s one of nine “one-and-done” players Duke has had since the 2010-11 season. Freshmen forwards Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter will join that list in June and maybe guards Gary Trent and Trevon Duval.
Duke’s also had eight players transfer out of the program in the past eight seasons, which raises questions about how tight-knit the circle can really be.
UNC has had one one-and-done player (Tony Bradley last season) and one transfer (Larry Drew in 2010-11) over the same span.
“It’s a good marketing social-media campaign but I don’t think it’s nearly as genuine as the Carolina Family,” said Bobby Frasor, who played for the Tar Heels in the mid-2000s.
“I just feel there is a more sincere caring for other Carolina players from the older players and that’s passed on from class to class. Coach Smith started it and coach Williams cultivates it. It’s way more than just a word.”
But Duke has turned any potential negative questions about roster turnover into a positive by highlighting the success of “one-and-done” players like Irving and Boston rookie Jayson Tatum.
Former Duke forward Ryan Kelly said the social media campaign highlights the connection between Duke players, it doesn’t diminish the quality of it.
“This is one of the many things that has made Coach K’s program so steadily great, I believe,” Kelly, who is playing professionally in Spain, wrote in an email to The N&O. “His willingness to allow his program to adapt and grow to the times. The Brotherhood is a way to use social media to express our love and togetherness for Duke and Coach K.”
Capel said Duke was smart to embrace social media because that’s an easy way to connect with recruits.
“They’ve become the cool place,” Capel said. “They’ve adapted to the times and taken it to another level.”
Run your own race
As Krzyzewski likes to say, everyone has to run their own race. UNC has their thing and Duke has theirs.
The “K Academy” brings former players back to Durham every summer to work at the coach’s charitable fantasy camp. UNC players return to campus to work at their basketball camps and play pickup with the former UNC players in the NBA.
Duke was smart enough to make it a brand. Jeff Capel was the first to use the hashtag in a tweet congratulating former Duke guard Quinn Cook on Twitter in Oct. 2015.
From that seemingly innocuous tweet, Duke’s movement has grown. The players even wear “The Brotherhood” shirts on the bench.
That’s Duke running their own race.
“I just like the fact that (our former players) are all close,” Krzyzewski said.
On that, Williams can agree.
“I think everybody would like to have their players have a strong feeling of family, or brotherhood, whichever one you want to use,” Williams said.
Steve Wiseman contributed to this report.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio