Although it’s been news for almost a month now, ESPN confirmed this week that they’ll be adding newly-retired NBA veteran Shane Battier to their college basketball coverage for the 2014-15 season, as the two sides have agreed to a multiyear contract to get the former pick setter and charge taker extraordinaire in front of the cameras.
Battier, who had one of the most prolific college basketball careers in the history of the sport at Duke from 1998-2001, will join up with his former Blue Devil teammate and current ESPN college hoops analyst Jay Williams, which brings me back to a special place in my college basketball fandom.
As a writer I don’t really like to use words like “I” or “my” or anything attaching myself to what I’m writing about. It’s important to be objective if you’re sending a message out to people who are looking for news and a fair perspective about whatever it is you’re writing about. With that said, the 2001 Duke Men’s Basketball team is my favorite college basketball team of all-time, and probably the reason that I’m writing for Busting Brackets today.
As a “born in the 80’s, raised in the 90’s” basketballaholic who grew up in New York City, it was really easy to fall in love with the NBA, while neglecting its younger, academic brother. Especially considering that I missed the golden era of St. John’s hoops, as a kid the only team I had any real interest in was Georgetown, and that was because Patrick Ewing went there.
I still watched some college basketball as a kid/teenager, but never as intently as I did the NBA, until the 2000 McDonald’s All-American Game. I tuned in essentially to see the Holy Trinity of NYC point guards in Omar Cook (St. John’s), Taliek Brown (Connecticut), and Andre Barrett (Seton Hall), but found myself enthralled by the play of a different floor general in Chris Duhon.
Duhon was on his way to Duke, so I decided for the first time in my life, I was going to take up rooting interest in a non-local team, which all NYC’ers are able to do when it comes to college sports, as we really don’t have our own teams to root for.
Man did I hit the jackpot. I was vaguely familiar with some of the players at Duke already, mainly Battier and Carlos Boozer, and I figured it was OK to root for them as they hadn’t won a championship in eight years, so I wasn’t being too big of a front runner.
Well the rest is history; Duke went on to win the National Championship, Williams was named NABC Player of the Year while Battier took home the AP National Player of the Year, Oscar Robertson Trophy, Wooden Award, Naismith Award, and Adolph Rupp Trophy, as well as his third straight NABC Defensive Player of the Year Award.
I know people love to hate Duke, but this team had athleticism, future NBA players (five), three point shooting (they set the record for most three-pointers made by a college basketball team in a season with 407), that intense Coach K defense, and heart – which was best displayed in their annual visit to Maryland, as they came back from a 10-point deficit in the final 54 seconds to win the game in overtime.
Despite following the team because of how much I felt my game was similar – relatively speaking – to Duhon’s, as a pass-first point guard who thrived in setting up an offense and finding the best shot for my teammates, I fell in love with this team because of Williams’ flash, Battier’s well-rounded game, and Mike Dunleavy Jr’s ability to shoot and slash.
The 2001 college basketball season was the first season that I paid thorough attention to, and in a time where the NBA team who I had grown up rooting for was seemingly declining (I didn’t think it’d be THIS bad, Knicks), I was so excited to be introduced to a brand of basketball that relied more on effort, defense, and teamwork than what I was accustomed to.
And who better to have learned these things from than Shane Battier?
Age limits and the growth of a lot of mid-major programs has changed college basketball in a bunch of ways, so we won’t necessarily see guys who are sure fire draft picks stick around at big programs like Duke the way this 2000-01 team did, but it’s still the same brand of basketball being played on the collegiate level for the most part.
And if you haven’t given it a chance yet, you don’t know what you’re missing out on.
I’m excited for Battier to be able to teach basketball fans – novice and “experts” alike – the way he was able to teach me about college basketball, and I think he’s a great addition to an ESPN college basketball team that seemingly gets better every year in my opinion.
Now all ESPN has to do is roll out a Williams, Battier, Dickie V and Jay Bilas crew for North Carolina/Duke at Cameron Indoor. That’ll make the college basketball world real happy (sarcasm font) .