YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Iron-Willed Battier Gets With Program

April 03, 2001|J.A. ADANDE

MINNEAPOLIS — This was about more than Shane Battier's will to win, which he demonstrated again and again throughout this Final Four.

This was about Battier's refusal to let an entire program down. When Elton Brand, William Avery and Corey Maggette bailed out after their sophomore years in 1999, Battier did not want Duke to become just another school, or to be referred to in the past tense. He wanted to continue to enjoy the elite status it had attained under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. When Battier says "We're Duke," he doesn't want there to be a need for further explanation.

Duke is still Duke.

Or, you can refer to the Blue Devils as the 2001 national champions, after their 82-72 victory over Arizona in the Metrodome Monday night.

Battier's statistics were nice--18 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots--but with him it's always about the timing more than the numbers.

He had six points, three offensive rebounds, a defensive stop, a blocked shot and a defensive rebound in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the game, when Duke was trying to make its three-point lead stand up to an unrelenting Arizona team.

Arizona didn't go out a loser. The Wildcats honored their coach's late wife by refusing to fall apart after her death Jan. 1, by playing with heart and class, by pumping up the blood pressure in this game even when they had two or three chances to fold. In the end, a very, very good team lost to one that was slightly better.

Better by a Battier.

Battier took the Blue Devils on their final steps back to the top Monday night, completing the task that the more talented 1999 group left one game short.

On the day before the championship, Battier said: "I would love this to be my legacy, to keep the tradition alive. It was truly amazing to see everyone doubt our program and to write us off for a couple years until Mike could recruit some more great players. I knew . . . we were going to be successful."

His fingerprints will be all over the next championship banner they hoist in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Battier's legacy is decided.

Krzyzewski's too, for that matter.

His third title puts him up in the select circle with John Wooden (10), Adolph Rupp (four) and Bob Knight (three) as the only coaches to win more than two national championships. He's ahead of Dean Smith, Henry Iba and Denny Crum, to name just a few all-time greats. Only Wooden and Smith made more Final Four appearances.

You can't knock K anymore. Because his Blue Devils had not won a championship since 1992, the last time the Final Four was held in Minneapolis, because he had come home without a net in six of his previous eight Final Four appearances, there was talk that Krzyzewski's name didn't belong in such company. All of that can stop now.

The drive to this landmark title started in Krzyzewski's house two years ago, when Battier, fifth-year senior Nate James and Chris Carrawell (Class of 2000) met after the team had been "dismantled," as James put it.

"We said, 'Coach, don't worry about anything,' " James said. " 'Because we're going to get back to the point where we get the chance to go to the Final Four and have a chance to win the national championship.' "

Battier helped instill in the younger players a sense of what it meant to play at Duke.

"He had all of our backs ever since he stepped on this campus," Mike Dunleavy said.

By the third practice of this, his senior year, Battier had become such a leader that Krzyzewski stopped his custom of talking to the team before each practice. He let Battier handle it.

"I've never done that with a kid," Krzyzewski said.

He relied on him heavily during the games as well. Battier played 38 minutes or more in 19 of Duke's games this season. After the Blue Devils dispatched 16th-seeded Monmouth in an opening-round cakewalk, Battier played all but one minute for the rest of the tournament--including every minute of the Final Four.

"I know from being in this tournament that your big-time players are going to have to play 36 to 40 minutes if you're going to win," Krzyzewski said. "He was conditioned to do it. He knows how to play tired. He knows how to think tired. He knows how to lead tired."

Although he was chugging up and down the court in the second half and said he was "exhausted," he made some of his most athletic plays down the stretch. His tip-in of the Dunleavy miss, which he actually caught with the back of his hand as he went flying by, was "one of the great plays that I've seen in a championship game," Krzyzewski said. "He had an out-of-body experience or something."

Battier was definitely working for a higher power.

"Coach is such a tremendous influence in my life," Battier said. "To give him his third championship and separate him from the rest of the pack that has won two is the best way that I could go out. It's my going-away present to him."

Let Battier be a lesson that when you put everyone else first, the spotlight has a way of coming back to you.

Los Angeles Times Articles