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DURHAM — Longtime friends Chelsea Gray and Afure Jemerigbe meet on the basketball court today, which is fitting.
That’s where their friendship began a decade ago when both were entering the sixth grade. One killer crossover met another.
“We had a 1-on-1 drill,” Jemerigbe said. “The first time she crossed me up at the middle of the court, I fell. The next time, she played defense. I did an in-and-out crossover, and she fell. We became friends after that.”
Friends and teammates growing up in Stockton, Calif., Gray and Jemerigbe will face off today for the first time in a competitive game when Jemerigbe’s California Golden Bears, ranked No. 10, play Gray’s No. 4 Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium (2 p.m., WDNC 620-AM).
“It’s going to be exciting,” Gray said. “We’ve been on opposite teams in the summer, but we’ve never played against each other or anything. We’ve always been on the same team.”
Gray and Jemerigbe played together throughout middle school and in high school at St. Mary’s in Stockton. Together they won state championships as juniors and seniors with both being named McDonald’s All-Americans.
“She’s a great teammate,” Jemerigbe said. “She’s easy to talk to. She always knew when you were open when others wouldn’t think you were open. She’d find you.”
They’re such good friends that Gray said her mother, Vickey Gray, considers Jemerigbe her second daughter.
Vickey Gray has traveled cross country to watch today’s game at Cameron.
“It’s a great opportunity to see us both play against each other,” Chelsea Gray said.
Gray enters the game playing as well as any guard in the country. Her coach, Joanne P. McCallie, said there is no one better.
“I don’t accept that anyone is better than Chelsea,” McCallie said.
Gray leads Duke with 16.4 scoring average as well as 7.0 assists per game. She also is contributing five rebounds a game.
“She’s more mature than she was at this time a year ago,” McCallie said. “She’s dictating and making great decisions. I think she’s really been ... a consummate team leader. As an All-American guard, she can empower everybody.”
This won’t be the last time Gray and Jemerigbe have a chance to play against one another. Duke and California are slated to play in Berkeley, Calif., next year to give Gray a chance to play close to her hometown.
Today, they get their first crack at each other, which no doubt will conjure up memories of that 1-on-1 drill in summer league 10 years ago and their high school glory days.
“I’ve waited three years for this,” Jemerigbe said. “It’s going to be weird. I’m sure we’ll get in a couple of laughs. But when we step on the court, she’s my opponent and that’s how I’m going to look at it.”
UNC plays at Tennessee
While Duke faces a fellow top-10 team on its home court, fellow unbeaten North Carolina travels to face Tennessee in Knoxville today (1 p.m., Fox Sports South).
The Tar Heels (7-0) are ranked No. 22 while the Volunteers (5-1) are No. 16 this week.
UNC never has won in six games against Tennessee in Knoxville. But the Tar Heels are off to a stellar start this season thanks to defense. UNC is allowing the opposition to score only 54.3 points per game.
The Tar Heels are playing their second ranked foe in a row. UNC beat No. 15 Ohio State 57-54 on Wednesday night at Carmichael Arena.