Former Duke star Christian Laettner is perhaps the most well known Blue Devil of all-time. His NCAA heroics in the early 1990s continue to be relived every March, and college hoops fans everywhere are well schooled on his status as one of the top collegiate players in the modern era. Recently, Laettner sat down with Devils Ilustrated's Clint Jackson to talk about life, Duke, the Devils' most recent title and much more. Read on to find out what he has to say in Part I of the interview.
Clint Jackson: We noticed your attendance at several of the stops on Duke's road to the championship last season. Were you closer to this last team, more so than perhaps other teams in the past since you have left Duke?
Christian Laettner: "Maybe just a very little bit. Because last summer, during the K Academy, which is an academy for adults, or a camp for adults, I had been going to that every year. And I was there last year and all of the kids were there like Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, the Plumlee brothers, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas and we played five on five for a few days, so I got to play a lot last summer against the squad. But I can't say that I was any closer to that squad than any other teams. But I did play some against that squad, like I said, in the five on five setting.
"I did do one or two days of post work with the big guys though.
"I was pulling for them really hard and they did not look like a national championship team in the beginning of January, but Coach K is very, very good at getting you to play your very best basketball in March and he pulled that trick off again this year.
"In March, when they started the tournament, they looked like a very very good team and I think the reason for that was when they put Zoubek in the starting lineup. He started producing for them and really being a big factor in the game and especially staying out of foul trouble. They were able to win six games in a row and win a championship.
"I was just so proud of them and happy for all of the guys and especially for Coach K."
Jackson: I hear you are running some basketball camps down in your area these days.
Laettner: "I wouldn't call it a camp, but I would call it more of a personalized clinic. It's more of like four to six kids at a time, who are between the ages of 14 and 22. They hire me just for individual clinics in the gym. I wouldn't call it camps, but I might do some camps someday. But it's just more of a personalized clinic where I'm in there with some teenagers just trying to teach them the game of basketball."
Jackson: What else are you doing these days since your retirement from the NBA?
Laettner: "Well I have a real estate development company with Brian Davis, who I played with at Duke when I was there. We have a wonderful project in downtown Durham called the West Village. So most of my time is taken up with that. But besides that I have the basketball clinics, like I said, and I spend a lot of time with my family and make up for lost time when I was playing for 13 years in the NBA."
Jackson: I believe you have a few kids now, right?
Laettner: "I have three kids. I have a girl who is 13, a girl who is 11 and a boy who is four."
Jackson: What's it like being Daddy Laettner now?
Laettner: "I absolutely love it. It's the most wonderful thing in the world. My wife and I have three healthy, happy kids and I can't complain at all. They're all smart, beautiful, athletic and doing very well in school, so I really can't complain at all."
Jackson: Any chance the little man follows in your footsteps with hoops?
Laettner: "Right now he hates anything that is organized. Anything that is like a team, or in a gym with other kids -- he just starts crying.
"But when we goof around in the driveway, he loves it. I never told my wife to sign him up for basketball when he was three or four years old, but she did it anyway. He just cries the whole time out there. I'm like honey, don't sign him up for anything, just let me goof off with him in the gym or in the driveway. So right now, I just throw the ball around with him and let him chase it, so that's where we are with him right now. He's not feeling it too much right now, but I'm sure he will come around soon."
Jackson: Are the girls into sports?
Laettner: "Sophie is the older one and Summer is the 11-year-old one and they are playing basketballÂ and they are playing volleyball right now. They don't like to tell me, but they do, but they like volleyball better, and that's fine with just as long as they're doing something. Right now they're really into volleyball and I'm sure when they get a little older and get a little better at basketball, they'll probably like it even more."
Jackson: I'm going to take you back with this next question. Way back. Thinking back to when you were being recruited in 1987 or 1988, can you remember that moment or that specific time when you just knew that Duke was it for you? Can you put into words your feelings when you had your mind made up on Duke?
Laettner: "Well I would say in 1986 when they made the Final Four with Johnny Dawkins, I was like a sophomore or junior in high school, that's when I fell in love with that team.
"Then I really started looking hard into Duke and once I looked at everything I just loved everything about it. The coach, the players, their style of play, the colors and they wore Adidas sneakers -- and I loved that back then.
"Just the school, it was outstanding, I just loved everything about it."
Jackson: So it was Duke all along after that?
Laettner: "Now I still gave everyone else a chance because I knew that there were some other outstanding schools out there. I thought the ACC was the best basketball conference back then so I only made three official visits. I visited Duke, I visited North Carolina and I visited Virginia. So I loved the ACC, and I loved Dean Smith and North Carolina, also.
"I just felt Duke was a little bit more of an up-and-coming program. I wanted to be a part of that, whereas Carolina had already won a championship and they were very well established. I wanted to be a part of the Duke program because they weren't quite there yet, they were getting there, they were getting to the super upper level program and I wanted to be a part of that momentum and that's why I went to Duke."
Jackson: Was your second choice UNC or Virginia?
Laettner: "My second choice would've been Carolina. And when I told my mother I was going to Duke and not Carolina, she just cried and that made my decision process a little harder. But I still went with what felt right and it ended up working out well for me."
Jackson: So she was upset that you didn't go to Carolina? How does she feel about it now?
Laettner: "She's happy about the decision now, but she really liked Dean Smith because one of his strengths was that he was really good at connecting with the parents and letting them know that he'd take really good care of their son. He was really good at it. She liked him a lot, but in the end, she ended up not regretting my decision at all."