Thursday, March 29, 2012

Grant Hill to Christian Laettner…a Defining Moment

This week marks the 20 year anniversary of the Shot.
Although, it’s called the Shot, if it weren’t for the perfect throw by Grant Hill, Christian Laettner would never been in position to make the buzzer beater that sent the Duke Blue Devils into the Final Four for the fifth consecutive year.
It is called one of the greatest college basketball games in history. And, a play we’ve seen over and over…as it’s shown at least once during the NCAA tournament each year and was part of advertising campaigns.
Christian Laettner and the Shot
With 2.1 seconds left and Kentucky leading by one in the East Regional Finals, the play was set. No one was guarding Hill on the inbounds pass. Laettner caught the pass, dribbled and put up the shot and scored.
Both were confident and knew they could do this. And this is how the entire season played out. They were ready for their second consecutive national championship—a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since John Wooden and UCLA in the early 1970’s.
I watched them up close this year as I covered them for a nearby newspaper. I could sense something special was happening. When the team was down in a game and needed a basket, Bobby Hurley would bring the ball up the court and you knew he had it all under control. You knew either he would score or pass it to one of his teammates, who would score. You could just tell by his demeanor that he was going to get it done.
It was that confidence in a team…when you know they have all the right pieces in all the right places. And, this team did face adversity. It was not an easy road for them.
When Hurley broke a bone in his foot and missed five games, Grant Hill stepped up and moved over to point guard. During that time they only lost one game, to Wake Forest (and they only lost other game earlier in the season, en route to a 34-2 record). Then, Hill went down with a sprained ankle, same thing happened. The other guys (Thomas Hill, Antonio Lang, and Brian Davis) took on more responsibility.
That’s the way this squad operated. They were a team. To me, they were the definition of a team.
The team was treated like rock stars. Being ranked No. 1 wire to wire will do that. And, they were about to be put in the same breath as those great John Wooden teams.
And, crazy things were happening along the way.
Grant Hill and Laettner celebrate
the winning shot
At the time Grant Hill shared that after a game at Clemson a girl said he had cute ears and wanted to touch them and kiss them. Of course, Coach K said the very same girl said he didn’t have cute ears!
Grant Hill and Laettner have teamed up once again. This time on a recent documentary focusing on the 1991 and 1992 Duke National Championship teams--Duke ’91 & ’92: Back to Back. It is a behind the scenes look at how the team maintained their edge during the season and kept their eye on the bigger picture of what they were trying to do. The legacy they were creating.
In the documentary, Jim Nantz agreed with this legacy quest, “They were driven to make their mark in history, not as individuals, but as a team.”
And, Grant added, “What exactly defines a team? Throughout my career, and I’ve played a long career, but nothing comes close to that sense of unity, that bond, that brotherhood we had. In every sense of the word, we were a team.”
I’ve said for years that this is my all-time definition of a team. My dad would say his was Ohio State in the early 1960’s with John Havlicek, John Lucas, Larry Siegfried, Mel Nowell, and backup Bobby Knight.
So, what pro or college squad defines what you think is a team?