Q&A with Former Duke Star Christian Laettner at Saturday’s Legends Event
Former Duke star Christian Laettner taught kids the fundamentals of basketball at the Sanford Pentagon on Saturday.
Laettner played in four Final Four’s for Duke from 1988 to 1992. His Blue Devils won two titles in 1991 and 1992, and was the Final Four Most Outstanding Player in 1991. He went onto to play for the Dream Team in 1992 Summer Olympics, and played in the NBA (Minnesota Timberwolvs, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks, Washington Wizards, and Miami Heat) for 13 years. Laettner averaged 12.8 points, and 2.7 rebounds over his career in the association.
ESPN 99.1’s Sam Tastad sat down the former college and NBA star about his career accomplishments and why he loves giving back to young basketball players.
ST: How different were the college and NBA games when you played?
CL: “Well, they are both awesome and playing college basketball at the highest level was very, very much fun. Playing for a great coach, great team, and great program at Duke. Then, going to the NBA is what you have been working for your entire life, and what you have been dreaming. So, playing in the NBA was an awesome time. They’re similar because it’s basketball, and it’s really hard and at the highest level. They are a little bit different, but I love each of them.”
ST: After playing all four years at Duke and making four Final Four’s, what was that experience like compared to nowadays when players leave school after one season:
CL: “It was great playing all four years. I could have left after my junior year after we won a championship and I was doing well, and I could have left, but I didn’t and chose to stay because playing for Coach K and his system was so much fun. We were experiencing so much success. But, you are right, a lot of kids are leaving early today, and they are good players. It’s tough to see, and you are not happy seeing it because you wish the kids would stay a little bit longer because I think it would help the college game, and at the same time, the pro game. But I understand they had to leave to go make that big money and reach their dream. You know, everyone dreams of playing in the NBA. So, I understand where they are coming from, but I do see the importance of staying in school in the long run.
ST: What does Laettner think of the one-and-done rule?
CL: “I don’t like it, and they are halfway there. I think it should be a two and done. Like I said, I think it would help the college game and the NBA game.”
ST: What was it like playing at a well-known basketball school, Duke, and for head coach, Mike Krzyzewski?
CL: “Like, I said, it was awesome. He was very good at running a very tight shift. Lots of accountability, depending on each other, strict rules and regulations, and got to play a certain way. He was very good at laying the law down, and holding everyone accountable. It made us play basketball at a very high level.
ST: What did you take from playing on the 1992 Dream Team in the Summer Olympics?
CL: “Playing on the ‘Dream Team,’ was just awesome. It was one of the greatest times of my life. I took a lot from those guys in practice playing against them one-on-one, five-on-five, and that’s why I learned a lot. Then, by watching the games during the Olympics because I was the 12th man. So, I wasn’t playing very much. I was able to sit and observe and see how hard they play and see how they played the right way. By the right way, I mean, really hard on defense, they pass the ball to the open man, and I think it was beauty to see.”
ST: Why does Laettner love to give back to kids at events like Sanford Legends?
CL: “Well, I love it because my was a teacher for 30 years. My father was a coach for 35 years. So, they showed and taught me the importance of giving back and working with the kids at a very young age. I mean, when I was 13, I was coaching kids that were six or seven years old, and reffing all their games. They instilled that principle of giving back to me and definitely working with kids, I mean they are our future. I think I have some knowledge I can impart to them, and why not give it away? Why not share it? I love doing it, and it is a lot of fun.”
ST: Advice that Laettner would give young ballplayers?
CL: “It’s different as the kids change with age. You got to show them higher level stuff, you have to show them stuff at 13 that they can’t possible understand at seven. So, you have to know how to bring the game down. At the seven-year old mark, you got to make sure you are giving them the right tools, drills, instruction, and coaching. Then, when they are 13, everything becomes a little more hard, more complicated, and asking them to do more things with a defender on them. It really changes what you coach and teach them, but I will say the main thing I try to get all the kids better at is four things: catching, passing, dribbling, and layups. If they can get better at those four things, their game will improve.”
ST: Why should kids get involved in sports, like basketball?
CL: “Well, nowadays, they should do it so they can get off that stupid technology. Get off of the computer, and oh my gosh, stop playing with the iPads, Facebook, and all that stuff. But, you know, everyone has to have good outdoor activities I think. I grew up near Buffalo, New York in a town called Angola and lived out in the country. We were outside all the time – working, playing, goofing around and hanging out. So, I would like to stress the importance of getting outside, getting some fresh air, and activity. You know, everyone talks about kids, or people being overweight, but to play the sports is so good for the kids because it gets them active, athletic, outside, off the computer, and you never know what might happen. Some of them might turn into really good athletes.”
ST: Last question, Laettner reflects on his game-winning shot against Kentucky in 1992 after he caught a full-court pass from Grant Hill and hit a jumper to win the game:
CL: “What can I say about it, it was awesome hitting that shot and it was the culmination of a great game, season, and run we had at Duke for a long time. I tell the kids that I am coaching all the time, the Kentucky shot would not have happened if Grant didn’t throw a good pass and I didn’t make a good catch.That’s why I stress getting better at those four things: catching, passing, dribbling, and layups.”
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