RALEIGH, N.C. – Matt Jones darts down the polished hardwood floor at Broughton High School, blows past his defender and stops just inside the right wing for a pull-up jump shot that misses hard off to the left side of the rim.
A short, burly man sporting a “UNC” cap erupts in laughter and yells, “Duke sucks!”
The next time down the floor, Jones, a senior shooting guard at De Soto (De Soto, Texas), gets his defender with a crossover dribble, steps back and nails a 3-pointer.
“Boo!” the man yells. “Duke still sucks.”
Jones shakes his head and smiles before getting back on defense in the Dragons’ 57-50 quarterfinal win over Kinston (Kinston, N.C.) at the HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational Thursday in Raleigh, N.C.
Comes with the territory when you sign on to join college basketball’s Evil Empire and it’s even more heightened when you’re playing in a tournament located in the heart of Tobacco Road, where North Carolina fans outnumber Duke fans significantly.
“I was definitely feeling the hate,” said Jones, who signed with Duke during the NCAA’s early signing period in November. “People always have something to say because I’m going to Duke. They go really hard with it too. It’s funny at this point. Hard to believe that people care that much.”
It’s something that Jones’ mother, Aarolyn Jones, has had to come to terms with over the last year.
“He’s such a likable kid that it’s hard to believe anyone could dislike him,” Aarolyn said. “He’s really positive and he gets along with everybody. Definitely, as a mother, you don’t want to see people talking bad about your kid, but it’s beyond your control. Still, I’m like the mother hen. I don’t want anyone messing with my baby.”
Semi Ojeleye can identify with what Jones goes through. Ojeleye, a senior wing at Ottawa (Ottawa, Kan.), also signed with Duke in November and said that, while he was aware of the competitive hate fans had for Duke, he wasn’t fully ready for the backlash he’s received since officially becoming a Blue Devil.
“Being from Kansas and being recruited by the Jayhawks, people automatically assume you’re going there,” Ojeleye said. “So when I picked Duke, it was crazy. The fans were pretty rough on me. I guess I can understand, but sometimes it shocks me how much people dislike Duke. It’s something that me and Matt will definitely share stories about.”
Jones said he doesn’t get much more than “a typical anti-Duke” comment or the disgruntled Twitter follower who wants to remind him that Duke is overrated.
“Everyone’s a little more animated on Twitter because they’re behind the screen,” said Jones, who scored 15 points in the win. “They can just say anything and I get crazy comments. It’s bad now, but I can only imagine that it’ll be worse when I’m there.”
Safe bet according to Rasheed Sulaimon.
Sulaimon, a freshman shooting guard at Duke, had to deal with the same heckling during his senior year of high school, but he said “once you actually get on campus, the hating doubles.”
“Being associated with Duke definitely brings a lot of good and, inevitably, a lot of bad attention,” Sulaimon said. “Everyone wants to see the top dog fall. You have to stay poised on and off the court because people don’t like you. But that’s why we come to Duke. It’s not for everyone, but we’re built for it.”
That’s a mindset that Jones said “helps me deal with the haters better.”
And naysayers beware; Jones said that all of the snide remarks only add fuel to his competitive fire.
“That’s the ironic part about it, I guess,” Jones said. “They want to talk to get me off my game, but really they’re helping me. It makes me really want to dominate when I hear them talking crazy. I guess I should thank them for the hate.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY