At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 1993, Shane Battier, then 14, began writing on an index card 10 goals he wanted to accomplish in the next year. Adopting an idea from a motivational speaker he'd heard at a summer basketball camp, Shane pinned the card to the wall next to his bed in his family's house in Birmingham, Mich., so that it was the first thing he would see every morning and the last thing he would see at night. His goals ranged from building a giant city out of Legos to saving a human life. He also aspired to start as a ninth grader on the varsity at Detroit Country Day School. When he was named to the starting five the following fall, he went home, stared at the card and said, "Wow, this really works!"
On every New Year's Eve since, Battier, now a senior forward at Duke, has filled out a new card, recycling some of his unachieved goals and replacing those attained with fresh ones. In a good year he knocks off seven out of 10 goals. These days he keeps the card on the desk in his campus apartment at Duke, and among his goals are to win his first national championship, become a first-team All-America and an Academic All-America, and earn a national player of the year award. He didn't attain any of these in 2000, so they'll be back on the list for 2001.
Battier's goal cards provide much needed insight into a personality that even he described, in filling out a Duke sports information department questionnaire, as "Complex and pseudo-intellectual yet laid-back and simple." Welcome to the enigma that is Shane Battier.
At 12 he was the No. 1 chair out of 106 trumpets in Birmingham's annual youth orchestra concert. After earning a near perfect score on the entrance exam, he entered Detroit Country Day in the seventh grade, where he says he was a straight-A student (except for one B, in American history). As an 11th grader Shane delivered the commencement speech to the graduating seniors at another area high school. He conducted part of his interview with Duke admissions director Christoph Guttentag in German. The Blue Devils' associate athletic director, Chris Kennedy, recalls returning home after his first encounter with Battier, in 1996, and when his wife asked him about his day, he responded, "I just met a kid who's going to be president someday."
Battier may be every headhunter's dream job candidate, but he's not all buttoned-down, either. For instance, he's a sucker for late-night infomercials. His impulse purchases include a Juice-Man, a Euro-Sealer and a George Foreman Grilling Machine, and his teammates still tease him about the night last month when he nearly burned down his apartment the first time he used his mail-order bread maker. The centerpiece of his home decor is a hideous lime-green recliner he bought for $40 at a junk shop. He can dance the precise choreography seen on the video of 'N Sync's It's Gonna Be Me, thanks to lessons from his 15-year-old sister, Ashley, and he often carries in his pocket a set of gnarled fake teeth that he'll insert just to see the reaction they get from passersby. He even gave his girlfriend, Heidi Ufer, a senior at Villanova, her own fake choppers. "In some ways Shane's path is inverted," says Missouri coach Quin Snyder, a former Blue Devils assistant. "He was an adult when he came to college, and he has learned to be a kid."
When Battier's Duke advisers got him to sign up for a number of economics courses that would put him on the Bill Bradley-Rhodes scholar track, he went along at first but then changed paths. Battier decided to major in religion because it allows him to indulge in eclectic class discussions with a range of students from atheists to evangelists. "Shane's a wow guy," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says. "When I think back to when I was 22, I could never have been as driven or as curious as he is."
Battier acknowledges that he strives to be different, and he believes that stems from the time when he would have given anything to be like every other kid. Battier's father, Ed, the manager of a small trucking company, is black. His mother, Sandee, a corporate secretary, is white. Each brought a child from a previous marriage to their union, and Shane is the oldest of the two sons and a daughter they've had together. In Birmingham, an affluent white suburb of Detroit, Battier was the only child of African-American descent at Harlan Elementary School, and he still remembers his second-grade picture day, when all the other students were handed plastic combs and he was given a pick for his Afro. Still a minority of one at Derby Middle School, Battier shied away from talking to girls, afraid that they wouldn't be friends with him because he was of mixed race. When he moved to multicultural Country Day in 1991, he tried to fit in with both his black and white schoolmates, and as a seventh grader he overheard a black female classmate call him "a sellout."
"That was the first time I thought, Who am I?" Battier says. "I didn't want to hang out with my white friends because I'd be perceived as a sellout, and I didn't want to hang out with my black friends because I'd be rejecting my white side. For the first time I felt alone, and I really didn't like myself. My saving grace was basketball, because on the court it didn't matter what color you were."
Confidence gained from playing basketball soon emerged off the court. "One day I had an epiphany," Battier says. "I said to myself, Yes, I'm different, but instead of that being a bad riling, I can have the best of two worlds. I learned to love to be unique."
Ed and Sandee first saw Shane's precocious side when he was three years old and asked his mom, "Do you think I would make a good president?" Shane began reading encyclopedias for fun at five and learned to type at eight. By the time he was 13 he was whipping his father at Jeopardy! when they watched the show together. While Shane isn't blessed with an extraordinary IQ, according to his father, neither of his parents can remember ever having to tell him to do his homework as they did their other children. "Shane is no Albert Einstein. He's just the most dedicated, meticulous student I've ever seen," Country Day basketball coach Kurt Keener says.