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Christian Laettner

Duke star had perfect timing on the postseason stage

Posted: Thursday March 31, 2005 1:15PM; Updated: Thursday March 31, 2005 1:15PM

By Grant Wahl

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Sports Illustrated asked its writers to weigh in with their picks for the greatest college basketball player of all time. Read through their selections and then tell us yours.

Do you know how hard it is to win a national title? How much harder it is now, in the modern six-round era, than it was until 1985?

If you do, then you'll understand why Duke's Christian Laettner -- the best player on the only back-to-back titleists in the modern era -- deserves real consideration as the greatest player in college basketball history. But Laettner didn't just win Final Four berths (four in four years) or national championships (in his junior and senior seasons). It was the way he earned them, through myth-making feats of skill, that sealed his place in the pantheon.

In the end, Laettner was just so damn perfect. We refer you to the 1990 East Regional semifinal, when Laettner's buzzer-beater sank UConn (back when Duke used to beat UConn). Or the '91 Final Four, when Laettner slayed the monster (UNLV) and drilled all 12 of his free throws in the title game to beat Kansas. Or, of course, the '92 East Regional final, merely the greatest game in college hoops history, when Laettner made all 20 of his shots -- 10 field goals, 10 free throws -- and the Kentucky faithful cried.

The final play is Laettner's monument. You know the sequence: Grant Hill baseball pass. Laettner catches it at the free throw line. Shoulder fake left. Dribble right. Swivel left. Release.


It's the fake that kills me. How on earth, as the last sands of time slipped through the hourglass, did Laettner have the poise to pause? To know, in his inner clock, that he had just enough time to deploy a feint? If you ever needed evidence that certain players see and feel the game at a different speed, a different level entirely, here was Exhibit A.

(Besides, how could you argue with a guy who was more popular than Luke Perry when Luke Perry was the biggest thing on television?)

I don't know if Laettner is the greatest college player ever. For the same reason I never comment on high school prospects I haven't seen, I'm not about to debate the merits of old-time college players I never witnessed in action.

But I do know this: If we picked six players as finalists, Laettner would have to be one of them.