Cumberland Times-News

Local Sports

April 5, 2013

Laettner, ’76 Hoosiers honored at Final Four

ATLANTA — Christian Laettner will occasionally see a replay of his famous buzzer beater against Kentucky — and he tries not to look too excited about it.

“If I’m in a bar or restaurant and there’s people around kind of seeing how I react to it, I’ll purposely not look at it, so they don’t run around saying, ‘Laettner loved to watch himself on TV,”’ Laettner said. “But if I’m in the privacy of my home with my family, I know it’s coming on, I’ll definitely take a peek at it.”

Laettner’s shot that gave Duke an overtime win in a 1992 regional final was picked as the top moment from March Madness, part of a celebration of the NCAA tournament’s 75th anniversary. Indiana’s undefeated team from 1976 was also honored Friday, along with 15 of the tournament’s greatest players — a group that included Laettner.

The best moment and best team were picked by fan voting. The top players were selected based on votes by fans and NCAA experts.

Aside from Laettner, the other 14 players selected were UCLA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Indiana State’s Larry Bird, Princeton’s Bill Bradley, Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing, Duke’s Grant Hill, Michigan State’s Magic Johnson, North Carolina’s Michael Jordan, Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas, Kansas’ Danny Manning, Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon, Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson, San Francisco’s Bill Russell, UCLA’s Bill Walton and West Virginia’s Jerry West.

Manning, Robertson and Walton were on hand for Friday’s news conference, along with Laettner.

“It’s great to be here with these remarkable players and the explosion of what’s come to be,” Walton said. “To me, that’s the most fun part, is to see the growth. Everybody coming together, to watch these remarkable players, to just be a small part of it, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

Laettner won two national championships at Duke — and he actually thanked Manning, who led Kansas to the 1988 title. Duke was also in the Final Four in ‘88, and Laettner said he might not have gone there the following season if the Blue Devils were already coming off a national championship.

“I want to thank Danny for not letting Duke win in 1988, because if Duke won in 1988, I might not have signed with Duke,” Laettner said. “Since they did not win that year, I said to myself, ‘They haven’t been to the pinnacle yet, I want to be on the team when they get there.”’

Coach Bob Knight and seven players from Indiana’s 1976 team reflected on the Hoosiers’ undefeated season, which hasn’t been repeated by anyone since.

“They were all good students, all graduated right on time. I do think they had a strong feel for one another,” Knight said. “I think that carried into a great desire to do something unusual, which is what they did. I don’t think the year before we really went after an undefeated season quite like we did with these guys. They really got into it.”

Scott May, who scored 26 points in Indiana’s win over Michigan for the national title, was asked if another team might someday go unbeaten.

“I think so,” May said. “I think somebody will recruit a class that will come in and stay and play together for a few years. I think it definitely will happen again.”

The famously explosive Knight has not spoken out about Rutgers coach Mike Rice, who was dismissed this week after a video went public showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players. Knight has declined comment through an ESPN spokesman, and he and the Indiana alumni spoke only about their title on the podium Friday. Knight would not stop and talk with reporters who gathered offstage at the end of the event.

 

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