The college basketball season is underway, and a host of traditional powerhouses look likely to once again dominate the top of the standings. UNC, Kansas and Kentucky boast strong squads of course, but just like seemingly every season since the dawn of time, Duke figures to be in the mix for title contention all season long.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski isn’t the four-year purist he once was, and his more recent flexibility has paid off in a big way — he won the 2015 title with freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, and this season he landed the number one recruit in the nation in Harry Giles. Giles is still recovering from a knee injury, so he hasn’t suited up yet, but when he does, look out. The Blue Devils have young talent, but they also have veterans in Amile Jefferson and Grayson Allen. The last squad with this sort of veteran leadership that won the title was back in 2001, when Shane Battier starred as a senior.
We spoke to Battier for Pizza Hut’s “Greatest College Sports Experience Ever,” in which they chose one lucky fan — Cleveland’s Jason Fisher — to attend the NCAA championship for every sport in one year. Who better to talk about that college championship experience than Battier?
As someone who’s been in both the NCAA title game and the NBA Finals, what are the differences that you remember in the emotions of the games?
Shane Battier: Well, they’re very different. In the NBA playoffs, every series is a marathon. You can have a bad game and sort of punt it and come back refreshed and refocused; there are so many adjustments and an ebb and flow of emotions. In a one-and-done situation, if you have a bad half, it’s over. Goodbye, thank you. So the pressure of the game, I think is higher for a single game setting.
But look, both are the same for the purpose of … You’re not going to reinvent yourself right before that game. Your work has been done, the hay is in the barn, so to speak, so you just have to go out there and be the best version of yourself. And if that version is good enough, you’re going be a champion. And if it’s not, you’re not going to be a champion. But they’re both really fun atmospheres.
Now that we’re 15, 16 years out from that Duke championship game, there’s only one player left from that team in the NBA, and it’s Mike Dunleavy. Would you have pegged him as the last guy left from that team?