This past Friday I had the pleasure to speak with Duke and college basketball legend Christian Laettner.
Christian was in Rifle, CO taking part in the “Christian Laettner Basketball Academy” at Rifle High School. The clinic took place on Sat. and consisted of three sessions:
- girls and boys from third through fifth grade from 8 am to 10 am
- girls and boys from sixth through eighth grade from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm
- girls and boys in high school from 1 pm to 3 pm
The event also included a dinner and silent auction.
Christian took time out of his busy schedule to speak with me over the phone on a number of topics, including his Academy. I was curious how he plans for his clinics. Do the coaches/parents have an idea of what they want or do does Laettner have a set plan beforehand? And how often do the clinics take place?
“It varies from clinic to clinic. We may have 10 – 15 minutes of drills just to see what level of skill they are at, and we go from there. If I have to do higher level stuff, I’ll do higher level stuff with them. If I have to real basic and simple stuff if I’m working with new players or really young players I might change it up to real basic fundamentals. If it’s an older team, like a varsity team, I can do some higher level stuff. The clinics take place at least one weekend a month and sometimes two weekends a month.”
Christian typically holds work outs in Jacksonville, FL but does travels on occasion to work with teams.
“For example, last weekend I was in the Cincinnati and Kentucky area doing a few things with Holy Cross High School, this weekend I’m in Rifle, CO working with Rifle High School. In about two weekends I go to Buffalo, NY to work with another high school and then I go to Blackduck, MN to work out with Blackduck High School and their community. And the weekend after that I come back out to Vail, CO to work with Vail Christian Mountain School. The weekend after that I go to International Falls, MN to work out with some programs up there.”
“The late fall to early winter always seems to be the busy time for me because that is when people are gearing up for their seasons. It’s a lot of fun for me. I love doing it and right now I’m in a beautiful part of the country, somewhere I have never been before.”
I really had no idea that Christian traveled all over the country, and as much as he does, for the Academy. As you can imagine that, along with having a family including three girls ages 16, 14, and 7, leaves him with little free time as I found out when I asked him if he had a chance to watch any of “Countdown to Craziness.” He said he has not had a chance to see any of this year’s team. He did, however, speak highly about 2014 commit, Grayson Allen.
“I’m kind of waiting for Grayson Allen to show up there next year, which I can’t wait for. He’s from Jacksonville, FL and I’ve worked out with him between five to ten times over the last few years.”
Even though Christian had not had a chance to see this year’s team, I did want to know what kind of advice he would offer a highly-touted freshmen, such as Jabari Parker, who is expected to come in and immediately be a star at Duke.
“Not much was expected of me my freshman year so I just had to sit and listen, buckle down and learn the system, and the program, as well as the style of play Coach K coaches and demands his team to play. That’s the first thing you’ve got to do. Then you’ve got to hit the weights hard, and the diet and nutrition hard. Just have to get ready to play. You’re only 18 or 19 years old going up against 20 and 21 year olds. There’s a lot of catching up to do.”
“My advice would be to listen and learn and get the system under your belt, and try to learn to play within that system to where it’s reactionary and comes from experience. You’ve got to get a lot of reps under your belt. You’ve got to learn the defensive schemes and terminology. You’ve got to learn the offense and the way Coach K wants you to pass, cut, and move. It has to become instinctual. There’s a lot to learn That’s why I loved my freshman year. That was probably the most fun year I had at Duke, even though we won championships during my junior and senior year, because there was so much learning going on.”
Christian brought up Coach K and learning what he demands of you. I wanted to get his thoughts on how Coach K, year in and year out, is able to get his players to buy into the team, or F.I.S.T, concept, especially in the age of one-and-dones.
“Part of it has to do with his personality. He is so charismatic and is such a good leader that it’s hard not to believe everything he says. You like him so much and you learn to love him so much. For me it was hard not to listen to his every word, hang on his every word, and do everything that he asks. That’s the first thing. The second thing is you come and play for Coach K because you know that you’re going to get the best of basketball fundamentals 101. The way they play defense, what they do on offense. In my opinion, for my style of play, it was just the absolute best style of play.”
“These players, they know what they are going to get, and they are going to get it at the highest level. He’s always using basketball psychology where he is talking about the team, playing together, and depending on each other. It alls fits in really good. When you have confidence in and you believe in something, it’s easy to do as he asks. It’s why his teams are good every year.”
I mentioned to Christian the countless tales of how people, athletes and non-athletes (myself included), after hearing Coach K speak, are ready to run through a wall for him.
“I’ve said that over the years many, many times, that a lot of it has to with his charismatic leadership. You believe in him so much. You know he’s wanting you to out there and perform at a very high level. There were plenty of times that we just got up out of our chairs in the locker room, ran through the wall, and got out there on the court to try and play our best basketball.”
Not many things have changed with Coach K’s approach to teaching his players, plenty has changed in college basketball, including the arrival of Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and next year Louisville, to the ACC. Duke and North Carolina have dominated the ACC for so long, I wanted to know if Christian felt those new arrivals would have any major impact on the ACC going foward.
“I do. Syracuse is always a very good team. Coach Boheim has been doing a great job with them, over the last few years especially. Their zone defense is going to throw a wrench into the plans, in terms of the ACC and its style of basketball. Syracuase will be very challenging. Notre Dame and Mike Brey are always a good team. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Once Louisville gets in, they’re very good every year as well because of Rick Pitino. I expect Carolina to bounce back.”
While he has no problems with the ACC growing and adding teams, Laettner did say “I’m old school. I like that old set up where it was all teams from the southeast. There was nothing like the ACC Tournament, nothing like driving down the road to play NC State, Wake Forest, and obviously Carolina, that’s what made the league great.”
I couldn’t let him go without one final question about his possible future in coaching, especially with his former teammate Bobby Hurley taking over this season as head coach at University of Buffalo.
“I have no idea. I’ll have to leave that to the Gods. We’ll see what happens. Right now I’m doing my basketball academy and having a lot of fun with that and staying busy. I’m so happy for Bobby, he’s up there in my home town. I know they’re going to start doing better up there at UB. I’ll see him when I’m up in Buffalo in a few weeks. I’m just going to keep plugging along and learning how to teach these young players today.”
The Christian Laettner Basketball Academy is a great way for players ages 12 and up to learn from one the game’s All-Time Greats. Christian offers individual, team, high school, AAU and college level sessions. He will even bring the Academy to you.
You can learn more about the Academy, as well as book Christian to come work with your team by visiting LaettnerBball.com. You may follow Christian on Twitter (@laettnerball) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ChristianLaettnerBasketballAcademy) for the latest news.
Remember, if you’re in the state of Connecticut, Kentucky, or North Carolina, you are eligible for a discount, from the compassion and generosity of Christian’s heart and soul for causing you all so much pain, agony and hate over his buzzer beaters and championship won during his illustrious career at Duke.