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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Classic catches up with Jim Spanarkel
By Phillip Lee
Special to ESPN Classic


Jim Spanarkel played for Duke from 1976-1979. He averaged 18 points per game during his career with the Blue Devils.
Former Duke star Jim Spanarkel, while playing with the Dallas Mavericks, guards Dr. J.
Spanarkel was ACC Rookie of the Year in 1976 and earned second-team All-American honors in 1979. He led the Blue Devils to their first NCAA Tournament in over a decade in 1978, making it to the championship game before falling to Jack Givens and the Kentucky Wildcats. Spanarkel went on to be a first round draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1979. He played five seasons with the 76ers and Dallas Mavericks before calling it quits. Phillip Lee recently caught up with Spanarkel to find out what the former Duke star has been up to lately.

Phillip Lee: What are you doing now?
Jim Spanarkel: I work full-time for Merrill Lynch. I'm involved as a certified financial planner. I'm part of a wealth management group for Merrill Lynch. We do financial planning and assert management for high-net worth individuals.

PL: How did you get involved with Merrill Lynch?
JS: When I finished playing basketball, I just started working with them in 1984. I had prepared a little bit prior to retiring from basketball. I got my license prior to leaving basketball. I was doing some studying and preparation during my basketball career.

PL: You also do some TV work, don't you?
JS: I've been with Merrill Lynch for 17 years, that's my primary job, and then part-time, I do some broadcasting for Fox Sports New York for the New Jersey Nets. I also do some for ESPN Regional for the Big East and some for CBS Sports.

PL: Would you like to do broadcasting full-time?
JS: No. I probably would like to continue to do it the way I'm doing it now.

PL: Talk about your days at Duke. What are your fondest memories at Duke?
JS: Two things come to mind. Number one was that we finished second in the NCAA championship game in 1978. That's from a playing standpoint. That was a great experience. I guess the second thing is -- and you see it a lot on television -- playing at Cameron was really a great charge. The crowd is always hyped up and ready to go. So it was a terrific experience every time you played a home game.

PL: Was the spirit at Duke as great back then as it is now?
JS: The spirit has always been there. I think the explosion of cable TV and television in general for sports, more people get to see (the crowd and spirit at Cameron) so maybe they're more familiar with it. But back then it was just as wild and crazy as it is now.

PL: We know about the rivalries in North Carolina, but the biggest has to be Duke and UNC. Was it as fierce back then as it is now?
JS: I think it's like the crowd answer I gave you (because of television and cable) more people know about (the rivalry between Duke and North Carolina). When I was down at the school and if you ask guys who were there prior to me, the Duke-Carolina isn't just a last 10 years-type rivalry, but probably a 50-year rivalry.

PL: Do you have memories of certain North Carolina players that you played against?
JS: That's kind of an easy one because in high school I played three years with Mike O'Koren, who played at North Carolina. I'm a year older than he is. We competed together for three years in high school and then we competed against each other in the North Carolina-Duke rivalry. He's a real good friend of mine. He's an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets so I see him all the time.

PL: How was it playing against O'Koren?
JS: It was a little odd at first because we had played together for so many years, but then it became just another game. You compete against him. You talk before and you talk after and the game is the game.

PL: Because O'Koren was on Carolina did you try harder to beat him?
JS: I never looked at it as if Mike was on the other team. It was a game where one team was playing another and he just happened to be part of it. I think he'll probably say the same thing. There was no added incentive to beat O'Koren. It was just an added incentive to play North Carolina.

PL: Was there always added incentive to beat North Carolina?
JS: That was always the big game, trying to beat Carolina because they had been so successful over the years.

PL: Is there a particular game against Carolina that sticks out in your memory?
JS: My senior year. It was my last game at home. Carolina came in and held the ball against us. We were both highly-ranked and they came in and held the ball. That was before the shot clock was in play. It was a 7-0 score at half, believe it or not. We were up 7-0. In the second half, they came out and played normal basketball. We ended up winning the game by seven points, 47-40.

PL: The 1978 team was the first Duke team to go to the NCAA tournament since 1966. Since 1978, Duke has pretty much been a regular in the tournament.
JS: I think the fact that we got it back on a roll for a couple of years (in 1978 and 1979) helped heighten the awareness, once again, of Duke basketball. We like to think we were part of the foundation.

PL: Do you get a chance to visit Duke?
JS: I don't get a chance to get down there much because of the Merrill Lynch job, I have a wife and four children and I'm also working the basketball broadcasting. So during the winter months when the basketball season is on, I'm usually fairly busy. The school has been great to me. It's something that I wish I could fit in more than I do.

PL: Talk about the 1978 season and the trip to the NCAA championship game.
JS: We were not expected to get that far in 1978. We happened to catch fire probably with about 10-12 games left in the regular season. At about the end of January, we started to really jell and play well. I think we caught a lot of people off guard. A lot of people began to latch on to us because we were the "Cinderella" team of that particular squad.





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