Shane Battier was recently a guest on my radio show, and I was struck by a few things after I interviewed him. He is not your average college athlete. And he is a man out of another era.
The first thing you notice is his voice. Battier is an eloquent and articulate conversationalist, quickly coming up with a thoughtful and reasoned response to any type of query.
|Duke forward Shane Battier was named ESPN.com's 2000-01 Player of the Year.|
He is older and more mature than most college athletes simply because he has stayed at Duke for four years. That alone could account for the refreshing lack of slang, street lingo and clichés that dominate the verbal style of most young athletes.
Shane Battier is an intelligent and educated young man -- and while he doesn't flaunt it, he doesn't conceal it either. He is comfortable with it.
He is different in other ways too. Battier never considered leaving Duke early. (Coach K was never going to have to say "Come back, Shane!" Sorry, couldn't resist that.) He takes his theology major as seriously as he takes his basketball. He wanted four years of college as much as four years of hoops. He doesn't have any tattoos. He doesn't care where he ends up in the NBA, though he wouldn't mind playing for his hometown Pistons.
Battier is not flashy. He rarely dunks. He is solid and dependable. In his own words, he has a "nerd-like" aura. He is a square. He reminds me of Bill Bradley or Tom McMillen. He really seems like he could have played back in the 1960s or '70s. He still would have stood out, but he would also have fit in.
His play is also reminiscent of another time. There is a spiritual nature to his game. Battier displays no phony, overblown emotions on the court. He is smiling because he is truly enjoying himself. Add Tim Duncan to the list of Battier's progenitors.
Battier has not won a title at Duke, though he played for one. As you would expect from a serious student, he has learned from his experiences. He says that a title this year would not erase the pain and lessons he learned when Duke lost to Connecticut in 1999.
Battier has also improved his game over the years. When he first arrived, he was taking charges and doing all the hustling that a young player at Duke does to stand out. Just like Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill did before him. And like those guys too, Battier has now become the go-to clutch player and senior leader. So much so that he considers himself an assistant coach. So does Mike Krzyzewski. It's an unspoken promotion, but it's real and richly deserved.
Saturday Duke and Battier will face USC for the right to reach yet another Final Four. Watch him run up and down the court as he tries to extend his college career a few more weeks. Watch him because he's a rare college athlete. And his four years are just about up.