Tuesday, April 3|
Battier ready to take on the world
By Andy Katz
MINNEAPOLIS Shane Battier, the almost too-perfect college athlete, had his number retired last month at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Monday night, he won a national championship in the Metrodome.
But the senior won't be remembered in either building for scoring nearly 2,000 points or grabbing nearly 900 rebounds. No, Battier will be remembered for making the type of play he did in the closing minutes of Duke's 82-72 victory over Arizona in the national championship game.
It wasn't a shot. It wasn't a block. It wasn't even a defensive play to cause a charge. No, Battier finished off his rather unique college experience by setting a selfless screen for Jason Williams, the best scorer in the game this season. Typical Battier allowed typical Williams to hit a crushing 3-pointer for an 80-72 lead with just more than a minute to play in the game.
Game over. Career over. Blue Devils celebrate and Battier begins his world tour.
That's right, Battier is going to go on a victory tour, at least that's what he's saying. And he could probably start charging for interviews, but he wouldn't, because he likes doing them so much. And besides, that simply wouldn't be Shane.
"It's fitting," Battier said of winning the title in his last season. "I've had an unbelievable individual career. I've had my jersey retired and I'm proud of the fact that I can hang a banner on the other side for 2001. When I'm old, bald and fat and my grand kids can come to Duke, they can see the banner."
But this isn't the end of Battier's stardom. It's just beginning. The NBA can't wait to get him, to show him off like a trophy for everything good about the game. Battier will be an instant hit in any city that he arrives in come June. And when his playing days are over, he'll likely stay in the public domain possibly in politics, an arena that definitely intrigues him.
First, he will savor his basketball celebrity, created by him because of who he is: a model citizen, student and complete athlete on the basketball court. He said he's off to L.A. for the Wooden Award later this week, which probably will become his latest piece of hardware. He then will travel to Augusta, Ga., for an appearance at The Masters, where he just might draw some sideshow attention away from Tiger Woods (well, at least when Woods is not on the course).
He's got a trip planned to Florida, too. He'll have workouts scheduled in late May and early June as he gets ready for the NBA draft. He'll probably have more, much more, and could easily hire a publicist for his schedule beginning Tuesday. He could do motivational speaking, produce his own video, stay with coach Mike Krzyzewski and give spirited talks to the remaining players. Anything Shane does, Duke and everyone around him laps up. For some reason, even when he said it's fitting that he won a national title, it doesn't sound arrogant. It simply sounds right.
"Four years is an ideal amount of time in college," Battier said. "I loved my time at Duke and it's time to move on to the next challenge and look back at this time as the greatest time in my life."
Battier is idealized by a few of his younger teammates, notably sophomore Casey Sanders. He said he sees himself in Battier, or at least hopes he's on the same path. Both are articulate, crave a bit of attention and neither fears speaking in public. Sanders started out as a defensive specialist and hopes he will become a contributing offensive player.
"The only way I would want to go out is on top," Sanders said. "You would always want to go out on top in anything you do, especially if it's the last thing you do. Shane deserves it. He earned it. He's a special player."
Rarely has a player been discussed with so much reverence after a national title. Krzyzewski who joined Bob Knight, Adolph Rupp and John Wooden as the only coaches to win three or more titles yielded the attention to Battier.
He said he never gave a player as much freedom to lead as he did with Battier.
"Usually as a coach I would get into the huddle and say something to them before practice," Krzyzewski said. "But I stopped doing that after about three days in October. I allowed Shane to talk to the team. I've never done that with a kid.
"I trust his leadership so much and what he's going to say," Krzyzewski said. "I knew they should hear his voice in huddles throughout the year, in the locker room throughout the year. And in some way, it would be better than my voice."
This is coming from a coach who should be considered as the greatest of his generation. This from a coach who told his team after Maryland beat the Blue Devils the game in which Carlos Boozer broke his foot that if they listened to him, they would win the title. They did by winning 10 straight.
Only two years earlier, the Duke program seemed decimated when three underclassmen left for the NBA, one senior starter also departed, and another high-profile reserve transferred.
"I tell our guys to always surround yourselves with good people," Krzyzewski said. "It may not be your time, but if you're with them, it can happen to you. I really kind of feel that about this team and with Shane in particular. It kind of was the way it should be. It was like a storybook. I'm glad I was in the book. I wasn't the main character, but I'm glad I was in the book."
But for Battier, this is only the first chapter of what could be quite a biography in the decades ahead.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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