Nearly left off the U.S. national team-by his college coach, no less-Shane
Battier has grown into an invaluable starter
In early August,
the U.S. team traveled to Guangzhou, China, to play a series of exhibition
games before the world basketball championships in Japan. On the team's first
day in the city, forward Shane Battier and center Brad Miller headed out from
their hotel to an electronics store, but within five minutes they had to leave.
"We literally could not walk through the store anymore," says Battier.
"People were trying to grab us and take pictures and get autographs. It was
' Mr. Battier, sign, photo please.' Brad and I are not marquee guys on the team,
but they knew who we were and were excited to see us."
Of course, the
reception afforded Battier and Miller is more a reflection of the NBA's raging
popularity in China than a sign that either man has joined LeBron and D-Wade as
a global icon. Still, for Battier this has been something of a summer of Shane.
First, in July the Rockets traded Rudy Gay, the eighth pick in this summer's
draft, and power forward Stromile Swift to the Grizzlies for Battier. Some
might consider that a hefty price for a role player-he averaged 10.1 points and
5.3 rebounds last year-but others see the trade as validation of Battier's
value as a versatile, team-first defender. (According to 82games.com, only 19
regulars in the league had a better on-court/off-court rating than Battier's
net of +8.5 points per 48 minutes in 2005-06.)
not only made the final 12-man roster of the U.S. national team, which was a
mild surprise, but has also become a starter. After the U.S.'s 113-73 win
against Australia, Battier was averaging 6.8 points and had knocked down 10 of
his 15 three-point attempts. He'd also taken a host of charges-not a surprise,
as he was 10th in the NBA with 48 taken last season-including a wince-worthy
one against new Rockets teammate Yao Ming.
on the U.S. team is a touch ironic because, for a while, his coach was
reluctant to include him on the final roster. Not because he didn't think
Battier was worthy, but because of that whole ' Duke thing.' "I was probably
harder on his selection than anybody," says Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski,
whom Battier played for from 1997 through 2001. "I wanted to make sure
there wasn't any favoritism. But as we practiced, it became apparent to
everybody what he could do, and all the coaches and the people evaluating said
to me, 'You're an idiot. He's very valuable doing all this stuff.' And he's
Battier is the
embodiment of everything that recent incarnations of the U.S. team haven't
been: unselfish, defense-oriented, an ambassador for the game. "I know my
role on this team, and that's to play with energy, play defense, be a good team
guy," says Battier. "In years past the guys who've been really good on
this team felt they had to do it by themselves because that's how the NBA
operates. But the international game doesn't work that way."
versatility-he can cover shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards-is
what appeals to Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, and it's also been a boon to
Krzyzewski, who has been starting Battier and Elton Brand as an undersized but
workaholic tandem at center and power forward. Who would have thought a few
years ago that a role player like Battier would be starting for a national team
stocked with stars like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? "He's the ultimate
team player and the ultimate pro," says Krzyzewski. "Is it valuable to
have a guy like that? I'd say. There aren't that many."
An Unfamiliar Ring to Her
Katie Smith has
always done everything that has been asked of her on a basketball court. In
2005 the lifelong shooting guard-she's the highest scorer in U.S. women's
professional basketball history (5,560 points over 10 seasons in the ABL and
WNBA)-moved to a new team, the Detroit Shock, and became its point guard. But
after Smith scored just two points in a 77-68 loss to the Connecticut Sun in
Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, Shock coach Bill Laimbeer asked her to
assume her old identity. "I told her at shootaround, I wanted to see the
old Katie Smith," says Laimbeer.
knocking down 16 points in a 79-55 blowout of the Sun on Sunday that earned
Detroit, the 2003 WNBA champion, a trip back to the Finals. "On top of her
scoring, her defense was unbelievable," says Laimbeer. "She dug balls
out, she took charges, she got rebounds. She did everything she could to help