Busting Brackets

Duke Basketball Legend Grant Hill Weighs in on NCAA Tournament and Laettner’s ‘Shot’

Sep 10, 2016; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils former basketball player Grant Hill is introduced during the game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Wallace Wade Stadium. Wake defeated Duke 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2016; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils former basketball player Grant Hill is introduced during the game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Wallace Wade Stadium. Wake defeated Duke 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

Duke basketball legend Grant Hill spoke with FanSided editorial director Michael Collins to talk about this year’s NCAA Tournament and the leadership role he takes in his life.

When you talk about Duke basketball greats, there’s a short list of names which immediately jump to the front of your mind, and small forward Grant Hill may be near the top of that list.

Hill, who helped the Blue Devils win two national championships in 1991 and 1992, is now a basketball analyst for NBA TV and still keeps an understandably close eye on the Blue Devils cagers.

Although Duke was exited early from this year’s tournament by Final Four team South Carolina, there’s still a bit of Blue Devils basketball history to touch on with Hill.

It just so happened that the day of our interview – March 28 – is the anniversary of “The Shot” made by Christian Laettner in the 1992 East Regional Final which sent Kentucky home sobbing in a collective big blue beer.

It was Hill who made the full-court pass to Laettner which led to the game-winning shot, and added to the “I Hate Christian Laettner” mystique. But had the roles been reversed, would Hill have avoided the blowback and ire of fans due to his good-guy reputation? He doesn’t seem to think so.

“Well I think I’d get the blowback from Kentucky fans,” Hill chuckled. “I don’t think I’m loved to this day in Lexington because of that play.”

So what was it about Laettner that brought out the worst in fans? Hill wasn’t shy about pointing out the good and bad of his former teammate.

“Christian was a great teammate, and a lot of people want to really explore his personality and what made him tick. Obviously the [ESPN] documentary that was out a few years ago really touched on that a little bit.”

Duke Blue Devils Basketball
Duke Blue Devils Basketball /

Duke Blue Devils Basketball

“But I don’t think it was just because of that game,” Hill continued. “I think his body of work and how he excelled had a lot to do with it. I think people resent it when people have success. But also his confidence. He was a cocky guy. He came across as arrogant.

“I think all that he had done during his four years – which was really a remarkable college career – and the way he did it was somewhat polarizing. Whether that play against Kentucky happened or not I think there would have been a lot of people who resented Christian Laettner.”

Duke wasn’t quite as fortunate in 2017, being bounced in the second round by South Carolina, but prior to this year’s season the current crop of Blue Devils drew a lot of comparisons to that 1991-92 team, and Hill thinks that really shouldn’t have been the case, and that the expectations for the 2016-17 Blue Devils may have been too high.

“I think there were some similarities because of the talent,” the two-time national champion said. “The difference was, our team in 91-92 had just won the championship the year before and we pretty much returned the entire team. We had the core who had the experience of winning a championship coming back, and that’s invaluable. ‘

“There was a lot of excitement with this current Duke team in the preseason because of the talented freshman class that was coming in.”

So can Duke hang another national title banner before Mike Krzyzewski is done coaching?

“Of course” Hill stated bluntly. “Coach K, he has another great class coming in next year. You don’t know who’s going to be there from this past year’s team and who’s going to pro, but I think it speaks to just how difficult it is to win a championship.

“I mean, Coach K – who’s won five of them – won in 2010 and won again in 2015. I think between those years they were bounced a couple of times in the first round.”

Hill pointed to other coaches like North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Kansas’ Bill Self, who have won championships saying, “They don’t go [to the Final Four] every year. It’s not an easy accomplishment, so when you do make it you have to, one, appreciate the opportunity, and then, two, make the most of that opportunity.”

After having his number 33 retired by Duke in 1994 and then retiring himself from the NBA in 2013, Grant Hill continued his humanitarian and leadership roles in the sports community in a number of ways – being awarded the NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Leadership Award this year – pitching in for the fourth year with the Allstate NABC Good Works Team®

“It really is a pleasure for me to really be an ambassador for the Allstate NABC Good Works Team, basically recognizing college basketball players for their community service, their volunteerism and the work they’re doing in their respective communities. We take five NCAA Division 1 college basketball players and five Division 2, Division 3, and then the NAIA schools.

“The work that these young men are doing in their communities, along with the responsibility of being a student-athlete, is just mind-blowing.”

You can catch Grant every week on NBA TV’s NBA Inside Stuff along with co-host Kristin Ledlow. Don’t miss FanSided’s other great Duke-related interviews with former star J.J. Redick, and ESPN analyst Dick VItale.