RALEIGH — Some people look for the groundhog. In Chapel Hill, they look for The Dunk.
Both are February traditions. When the shortest month rolls around, it’s time to see what the rodent predicts for the rest of the winter, and it’s time to get ready for Duke-Carolina.
When the two schools resume basketball hostilities, there will be weeks of run-up, promoting the game that always seems to live up to the hype. With that hype comes great plays from past battles of the blues, and near the top of the list is The Dunk.
“I get to see it every year,” said Jerry Stackhouse, a 2023 inductee into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and author of “The Dunk.” “Whenever that Duke-North Carolina rivalry comes back, I laugh and say, ‘I get to see myself with a little bit of hair.’”
It was 1995 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke was struggling through its worst season in more than a decade. But for one night, the Blue Devils were able to hang with the highly ranked Tar Heels in an epic double-overtime battle.
Stackhouse scored 25 in the UNC win, none bigger than The Dunk. He came in from the wing, driving to the basket. Cherokee Parks tried to contest him. So did Eric Meek. Both wished they hadn’t.
Stackhouse swept the ball up and under, windmilling it home as all five Blue Devils stood underneath the basket. He then stomped away, doing a monster walk across his rival’s home floor to celebrate.
Some dunks put you on a poster. The Dunk put Jerry Stackhouse into the sizzle reel for the sport’s biggest games of every regular season.
“It was one of those moments, man,” Stackhouse said. “That always stands out to me. Everybody brings it up. They’ve always got a memory of that, of where they were. A lot of people come up to me talking about that dunk. It’s probably … well, it’s one of my favorites.”
There were better dunks?
“My favorite might have been against Virginia Tech in Greensboro Coliseum,” he said.
That came a month before The Dunk. He drove into the middle of the paint and found his path blocked by center Travis Jackson. Not a problem — Stackhouse went up, over and through the big man, extending his arm overtop the defender and slamming home a power dunk that sent Jackson sprawling as the other Hokies stood underneath the basket, watching.
Stackhouse was more than just impressive dunks. He was part of a Final Four team in 1995 as well as an All-ACC and All-American for the Tar Heels. He went on to be drafted No. 3 overall and had an 18-year NBA career, making a pair of All-Star teams.
Now, Stackhouse has transitioned to a coaching career. He’s spent two seasons as an NBA assistant and two coaching an NBA G-League team. Since 2019, he’s been a college coach at Vanderbilt, competing with another member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame’s 2023 class — Hickory’s Rick Barnes, now head coach at Tennessee.
“Coach Barnes is a class act,” Stackhouse said of his cross-state rival in the SEC. “I’m proud to know that guy. I didn’t like him as much when he was at Clemson and I was battling against him (as a player at UNC), but now he’s been a great resource. As I’ve gotten introduced to SEC basketball, he’s just been a great mentor and supporter. He’s an unbelievable coach. He’s awesome. And his team, they foul you and don’t get called. I’m still trying to get him to show me how his teams can foul as much as they do and not get called for it.”
Stackhouse has another college coaching mentor to refer to while learning the ropes. He played for legendary UNC coach Dean Smith.
“Coach Smith was way ahead of his time,” Stackhouse said. “I’m glad I got a chance to learn from him. A lot of the things he imparted to me, I didn’t even realize at the time, and now I’m sharing it with the kids that I coach. I think a lot of who I am, my DNA, my identity as a basketball coach comes from him.
“I learned from a lot of different coaches I played for, but none more than him. Life lessons. Just the way we approach practice. We’ve got an offensive thought of the day. We’ve got a defensive thought. Just being on time, being punctual. They’re all things I got from Coach Smith.”
He also gave Smith and the UNC program plenty during his two years with the Tar Heels, not the least of which was a dunk that still pops eyes every February. It’s enough to send even the bravest groundhog back into his hole.
“The one in Greensboro is up there,” he said, “but for iconic, it has to be that one in Cameron.”