One on one with Shane Battier

Cited as one of the best leaders in Duke Basketball history, Shane Battier certainly left a mark on Coach K’s program from 1998-2001. Now, with his NBA career behind him, the former Blue Devil is beginning a new career at ESPN. We spoke with Battier about that, his time at Duke, and much more.

To start Shane I wanted to ask you about last night’s game against UNC…what were your thoughts on the latest rivalry contest?

Shane Battier: It was wow, it’s college basketball at it’s finest. It was a beautiful game, there was offense, there was aggressiveness, artistry, there was some great plays and some not-so-great plays but it reminds you of why college basketball is such a great sport and obviously I’m biased, I’m happy at the outcome. I thought both teams played their tails off and it was fun to watch it.

You had four games in Cameron against UNC yourself, are there any that are particularly memorable to you?

My freshman year, my first Carolina game for sure. It was Wojo’s Senior Night, we were getting blasted, I think we were down 17 at one point and we went on an amazing run and we ended up closing it out after Brendan Haywood and Ed Cota missed a couple of free throws. Cameron…I don’t think I’ve ever heard Cameron that loud in my entire life, everyone rushed the floor and it was just a madhouse, it was great. It was an unbelievable introduction to what the rivalry is all about.

Coming in as a freshman with the group that you came in with. What was that like for you in what was a sort of transition year for Duke?

I loved my freshman class between Chris Burgess and William Avery and Elton Brand, we all came in and developed a bond as brothers. I’ll tell you what though, the competition is what I remember the most about my freshman year. Every single day the competition in practice was most often, more than not tougher than the actual games. We had a guy named Taymon Domzalski and Jay Heaps who was a walk-on the basketball team but who was an All-American soccer player, there was never a free drill. Every drill was contested, we were unbelievably prepared for every game we played because of the competition that we faced in practice every single day.

Will Avery mentioned in his interview for this series a similar point to what you just shared in terms of how much he grew as a person by competing against guys like Wojo and others in practice every day. For you, how did you see yourself grow in your time at Duke because of that competition you guys had in practice?

I think the biggest thing I learned was just do your job to the best of your ability. I remember in 1999 when Elton Brand got benched because he wasn’t playing defense and he wasn’t moving out in the pick and roll. It didn’t matter what your name was or what your pedigree said. All that mattered was are you earning your minutes and can you help us on the court? That gave amazing clarity and I’ll tell you, it wasn’t for everybody. Luckily for me I thrived in that sort of competitive arena.

Was that type of environment the real drawing point for you in deciding to go to Duke?

I’ll tell you that Duke definitely was the entire package. It speaks volumes when you combine the school and Coach K and the basketball program, it was really a no-brainer. Look, every guy that goes there has to have amazing confidence in who they are. Everyone who walks into Cameron that first day they are there, they have to look at themselves and say this is my program, my jersey is going up in those rafters. If you don’t have that kind of confidence, then Duke isn’t the place for you. That’s why it’s a special place because you are around people who want to do big and special things, not just get by and exist. You go to Duke because you want to achieve great things.

The group you came in with, how close a relationship did you guys have in high school before you all arrived at Duke?

Yeah we played against each other in the Nike All-American Camps and the AAU Circuit. I wasn’t close to them but we all kept tabs on each other which back then was a little harder without the internet the way it is now with recruiting. I saw Elton Brand twice a summer at Nike camp, and I saw Chris Burgess every now and then, I saw Will Avery on the AAU Circuit but I didn’t really have close relationships with them because I was the first one to commit. I remember I called Elton after I committed and I said “Alright, are you with me or what?” And Elton said “I’m coming and I’m going to take the spot” and I told him, “Alright, we’ll see about that.”

Chris Burgess said the same thing and Will Avery said the same thing, but we had a great bond, my freshman year was amazing. I lived with Elton and with Will Avery which was great because when I came into college I was pretty straight laced and I had a real edge to me in that I was real regimented in what I did, I got my rest, went to bed early, that type of stuff. Will and Elton, they were a little more laissez faire, more laid back and I remember after about two or three weeks after I had been there, I walked into Coach K’s office and I told him, “I can’t do this, I can’t live with these guys, I can’t get my sleep, I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do, just give me a single, give me a single room,” and I was serious. I remember Coach K saying just give it time, just give it time, give it a month and then come back and talk with me. Then I remember they kind of loosened me up and I give them a lot of credit for making me see the light and really enjoying my college experience. I learned to ease up and it was an amazing freshman year. I remember Chris Burgess was a couple of doors down which was great too, we had an amazing group freshman year.

Speaking of being regimented Shane, I heard a story about you a long time ago that I’m hoping for you to confirm if it’s an accurate report. Is it true that you and your family had some sort of communication plan or structure with the coaches recruiting you before you committed to Duke? Is that an accurate story?

Oh yeah and well, it wasn’t my family, it was me that came up with that. I didn’t want to be chased around all week or just be tried to be nailed down to talk to the college coaches all the time, so I told all the coaches seriously recruiting me that you get 15 minutes on Monday night so that you will know that I’m there, I’ll know that you are there and then we can move on. I think the coaches really appreciated because they didn’t have to run around chasing me all over the country and yeah, that sums up who I am, I’m definitely Type A, ha-ha.

So in those 15 minutes phone calls with Coach K for instance, what was it about him that really drew your attention in what was relatively a short amount of time on the phone with him?

Yeah well, I think that what he did early in the recruiting process was he challenged me. He didn’t offer me, he didn’t promise me anything, but he challenged me and he was one of the few coaches that really understood that that is how you really engage me. He challenged me intellectually, not that he was questioning that i wasn’t tough enough, but he had subtle ways he would challenge by bringing up Chris Burgess and Elton Brand and he would say, “I don’t know who is going to play.” I would say to him Coach, if I came there, I think I would play. Just knowing that he was able to push that button for me more than some of the other coaches without promising me anything. All he said was that I will promise you an opportunity to earn playing time. I told him that’s alright with me, that’s fair and that’s all I needed.

I want to fast forward to the year you won the National Championship if I may. Are there any memorable behind the scenes moments you remember from that year?
Well, honestly the memory that stands out to me the most that season was actually the lowest point of that season for us. Yeah, honestly, that’s the point I remember the most was the day after we lost to Maryland my Senior Night. Carlos Boozer breaks his foot that game and we lost to Maryland pretty good and we had one more game against North Carolina and then the ACC Tournament started the following weekend. I remember we had a really bad practice, Coach K kicked us out of practice and said to come back when we were ready to practice, which was not uncommon, we had bad practices. I remember taking the team into the locker room and I remember I was throwing chairs, cursing at the team and I said “Look, this is it for me, I’m done after this season”, and without Carlos, we were thin up front. We had Casey Sanders and Reggie Love had to start at center and with North Carolina next up, I told the guys that conceivably we could lose the next three games and my career is over, we could lose the next three games and my career is over is what I told the guys.

We came back to practice that day and the guys responded, we resolved to fight harder and to give it all we had and to not make any excuses. We came back and practiced well and we totally re-invented ourselves. I remember Coach K said we’re going to try and shoot 40 3-pointers across North Carolina. If you miss it, I don’t care if you miss it or make it, I just want to shoot 40 3s and that was our mindset. We just wanted to be uber-aggressive and that’s what we did. We started Casey Sanders that game when we went to North Carolina and we must have been a 7 or 8 point underdogs, nobody thought we could win and we just unleashed a 3-point barrage and we ended up kicking their butts by double-digits. We go to the ACC Tournament riding some momentum, I think we started Reggie Love for a couple of games and we beat Maryland in a really tough ACC Championship game, that was the third time we had played them that year and then we got Carlos back in the NCAA Tournament and we just rode the momentum all the way to the Championship. It was an amazing run but if you had seen our locker room at that low point after the Maryland game, you would have said that there was no way this team was winning the Championship.

As you progressed in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments—was the Maryland loss a continual source of inspiration for you guys as a team?

No, our mantra was always next play, move onto the next play. We didn’t look back too often, even with our wins. We always moved on and kept saying what’s next, what’s next, even with the wins, let’s do it again. That was really the mantra of my four years, that’s the only way you can win 131 games in four years.

How was the team the day of the National Championship game? Nervous, excited, calm, how were you guys?

We were excited. I remember we went to the gym for walk-through. It was kind of a weird feeling to be in the Metrodome with no one there because the only other time we had been there was for Open Practice and for other games with people there. It was kind of a lonely feeling but we said hey, this is why we’re here, this is what we prepared for all year for. For me at least this is what I’ve prepared for in my life, is for this moment. There wasn’t anything we were fearful of, we just wanted to go and make the most of our opportunity against a really, really good Arizona team. We knew they were really good, we respected them, we knew that they had the talent to hang with us and beat us, so it was an amazing respect for them. We felt good after we came back having played poorly against Maryland, we just felt that hey, we have the momentum and this is our time.

What was it like for you seeing your roommate Mike Dunleavy have the scoring and shooting night that he had in that game?

Well it was about time he had one, he had been in a horrible slump, ha-ha. That’s my best friend in the world and I love him, but hey, i was glad that he remembered who he was in that game. Seriously though, we never doubted Mike. He’s an amazing competitor and those three 3s that he hit were just absolutely amazing, momentum boosters for us and we rode that to a 10 point victory.

So after winning the National Championship—you are in the NBA Draft and you get drafted in the Lottery. What was that experience like for you?

Well it was different because I went from Duke where I set a record for a number of wins in a four year period. I went 131 and 15 in four years at Duke, literally at the top of the mountain at Duke to being drafted by Memphis, who at the time had the lowest winning percentage of any professional franchise in baseball, basketball, football and hockey at the time. So literally I went from the best program to the worst franchise in pro sports history. It was a daunting task to try and change that culture and I lost more games by Thanksgiving or Christmas, I lost more games my rookie year by Christmas than I lost all 4 years at Duke. But I was lucky enough to get drafted with Pau Gasol, and Jayson Williams, White Chocolate and Stromile Swift, so we had some good young talent and we resolved to just keep fighting and to keep working. We had a terrible year that first year, we won like 21 games that year or something like that and then the 2nd year, Hubie Brown came in and just changed the whole culture of the Grizzlies and by Year 3, we make the playoffs, win 50 games and my last 3 years in Memphis we made the playoffs. So to take the worst pro franchise in sports and go to the playoffs 3 straight years, although we didn’t win a huge amount of playoff games, it was still an amazing accomplishment and one I’m still proud of. We took our teams as far as we could take them and that’s all you can really ask for in professional sports is that you maximize your team’s potential. I was really proud of my time in Memphis, I loved my time in Memphis and we sort of grew up together as a real NBA city.

When you look back over your NBA career—what do you think you learned most about yourself as you grew in your longevity in your NBA career?

I always figured it out, I always found a way to contribute, I always found a way to make my teams better and I always figured out a way to win. That’s something I’m most proud of. I’m not the most athletically gifted guy in the world, but I don’t think there were many more people who were as tough as me and took no for answer.

Did winning an NBA Championship with the Heat feel really different from winning the National Championship at Duke?

Yeah it’s different, it’s different. It’s similar in the respects that your only charge is to maximize your team’s journey and sometimes that ends up being a 500 season and sometimes it’s being at the top of the mountain. For me at Duke and my time at the Miami Heat, it led to being at the top of the mountain, and those were amazing experiences and seasons. They are so different, it’s like having kids, you love them both and you love them differently. You don’t love one more than the other, they are just from different times in my career and both are very special to me in very different ways.

Seeing how LeBron spoke about having you as a teammate, what was it like for you being his teammate? What will you most remember about being his teammate?

He’s the greatest in my book that I’ve ever played with and he’s won of the greatest players of all time once it goes down. It was greatness every single night and I’m proud that we had a bond and I think, I’m not taking credit for his career, but I think I was able to teach him a few tricks along the way. For that I will say that I taught LeBron a few tricks, a few old man tricks and that makes me feel good that he appreciates that. But I’ll say this, he’s a fantastic teammate and a good friend and it really was an amazing journey for those three years.

So then you draw to retiring from the NBA recently, did you already have your future plans kind of laid out when you retired with what you were hoping to get plugged into after basketball ?

Sort of… I knew it was my last year. The will to play was strong but the will to prepare weakens and it got to the point where I just didn’t want to put the time in to prepare the way I wanted to play. I just wanted to spend more time with my family and pursue other things after spending 20 years or so in basketball. I loved the game and if it was just about playing the game, I’d play it forever, but there’s so much more that goes into it and if I couldn’t give that effort, I wouldn’t get the results and I wouldn’t be able to handle that. So I started laying the seeds for post career the last couple of years, taking meetings and figuring out what really sounds good. That’s why I joined up with ESPN right out of the gate and I wanted to stay connected to the game of basketball, the game that I love so much.

What for you solidified that you wanted to do ESPN right away after retiring from the NBA?

You hear horror stories about guys who will say that I just want to be home, I just want to stay with my wife and kids and that’s it but usually after 4 or 5 months the wife is like go, go find something, get out of my house haha. I didn’t want to be that guy and I had the opportunity with ESPN and so I said what the heck, lets give it a shot.

What was your reaction to all the fan discussion about Shane Battier should do this or do that with different career options including in the political world that might be available to you?

Well it’s very flattering or it’s degrading, I can’t figure out which one with the way some politicians are these days. I take it as a compliment because I’ve always tried to help people and that’s a big reason why I established the Shane Battier Take Charge Foundation to try and help people. It’s our duty and it’s everybody’s duty, whether you are around the NBA or a teacher or whatever role you play in our community, if you have the opportunity, you have responsibility to make the world better and that’s where all the talks about politics comes from. I don’t have any designs to run anytime soon, I have a lot to do before that ever happens.

Is the Foundation where you do your Battioke event? Can you share a little bit about that and what you are doing with it?

Yep yep, that’s right in South Beach, it’s coming up March the 3rd. It’s the biggest fundraiser for the Battier Take Charge Foundation and it is the best night in Miami. We basically rent out a great theater and we hold the whole thing there. There’s a competition with my former Heat teammates and random celebrities. Last year we had LeBron and Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and it’s hilarious every year. Last year we had Ken Jeong from the Hangover perform. It’s just a Karaoke jam, it’s as spontaneous as you will find and it touches the core of people and it’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to doing Battioke here in a few weeks.

In closing Shane I wanted to ask for your thoughts on Coach K winning his 1000th game this year and what it meant to you to be a part of 131 of those wins as you mentioned?

There’s not anything I could say that hasn’t already been said about Coach already. He’s the greatest, he’s greater than a 1000 wins, he’s greater than 4 National Championships that he’s won. I think the sum of who Coach K is the many he’s produced and that will be his ultimate legacy, is the lives he’s touched, especially the players he’s coached who will go and do great things and impact the world. To be a part of that, the best part are the lessons you learn from Coach K. I don’t know if I would be here if it weren’t for my experiences at Duke and with Coach K and for that I’m eternally grateful and blessed. I love him.





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