Duke has had many tremendous players over the years and many with strong personalities. Just for a quick list: Dick Groat, Art Heyman, Gene Banks, Kenny Dennard, Jay Bilas, Quin Snyder, Billy King, Robert Brickey, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Chris Carrawell, Jason Williams, JJ Redick, Kyrie Irving, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson, to name a few.
Yet Duke has never had another player quite like Shane Battier.
Battier was a legitimately great college basketball player but his personality was nearly as compelling. Once, when Duke had been out of first place briefly, someone asked him what it felt like to be back. Battier’s response?
Early in his Duke career, he was primarily a defensive specialist but in his sophomore year, he lit Maryland up for 27, even adding three pointers to his offensive arsenal. When someone asked him to explain what the hell just happened, Battier explained that he had been inspired by a documentary about Shaolin monks.
Who else would ever have gone there?
On the court he was equally compelling. In the 2001 national championship game against Arizona, Battier made several incredible plays, including one block with his fingernails, actually putting his hand up so that it was facing the wrong way and his nails touched the ball.
But perhaps the greatest play of the game was this block.
Arizona’s Jason Gardner got the ball after Mike Dunleavy hit a three to put Duke up 46-39 and headed downcourt in a hurry. If you watch this carefully, you’ll see that Gardner knows he has Chris Duhon beat just past halfcourt - and so does Battier, who is slightly ahead and watching him intently.
Duhon swipes at the ball as Gardner commits to the drive. Battier follows him down from the foul line and meets him near the basket as Gardner starts to go up. He puts both hands up as Gardner rises, effectively putting a net over his shot.
Then, in a magnificent display of intelligence, Battier comes down with the ball, and as he’s falling out of bounds, apparently knowing that only Duhon was on the right side of the court, Battier throws a behind-the-back pass to him as he’s falling out of bounds.
Duhon heads back to the other end and after moving the ball around some, it gets back to Dunleavy, who hits another three to put Duke up 49-39.
If you had to list the greatest plays in Duke’s NCAA history, you’d surely put both of Christian Laettner’s buzzer beaters, Bobby Hurley’s devastating late three against UNLV, Grayson Allen’s dive for the ball against Wisconsin and Kenny Dennard’s exuberant backwards dunk against Villanova in 1978.
This one is right up there with all of those. It was truly extraordinary.