Laettner the villain admits early admiration for UK; Kanter to play in charity game

But ex-Duke star now misses the boos

jtipton@herald-leader.comOctober 7, 2011 

If boos rain down on him in Rupp Arena later this month, former Duke All-American Christian Laettner will not ask for an umbrella. He's more likely to look upward, stretch out his arms and welcome the drenching.

"I miss that," Laettner said Thursday of his role as villain in an upcoming charity game. "I'm 42. I'm getting that less and less. When you retire from the NBA, you don't get the yelling and booing as much."

Laettner figures to get all the sporting hostility he'd want when he acts as coach of a team billed as "The Villains" in a charity game set for Oct. 24. The bad guys will play a group of former Kentucky players called the Big Blue All-Stars in a game that benefits The V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Laettner gained a permanent place in UK basketball's rogues gallery in March of 1992. Not only did he hit the game-winning shot in Duke's 104-103 victory in the NCAA Tournament East Region finals, he earlier tapped his foot on the chest of a sprawled Animu Timberlake. UK fans refer to the tap as a "stomp," which resulted in a technical foul.

By the way, the Free Online dictionary defines the word "stomp" as "To tread or trample heavily or violently on." Timberlake immediately arose after Laettner put his foot on his chest.

When asked if he considered "the stomp" as the reason he's no favorite of Kentucky fans, Laettner said, "No. If I hit the last shot, I'd still be the No. 1 villain. Anyone who hit the last-second shot in '92 is going to be considered a villain, no matter what."

Laettner claimed to have been a "huge" Kentucky fan while growing up. Watching Rex Chapman play enthralled him.

"He was just an amazing player," Laettner said, "someone I looked up to and wanted to be like."

The former Duke star said Chapman was "a huge role model."

Ironically, Laettner credited another UK figure, former Coach Rick Pitino, with helping him become a better basketball player. As a counselor at the famed Five-Star Camp, Pitino gave Laettner the high school player valuable advice.

Of course, Pitino was coaching UK in the heart-breaking loss to Laettner and Duke.

"I tell Pitino every time I see him," Laettner said. "I learned some of my offensive game from Rick Pitino. He never seems to like it when I say that to him."

Laettner was philosophical about being a villain. "I realize it for what it is," he said. "It's just part of the game."

A full house in Rupp Arena for the game would not be surprising, he said.

"Nothing surprises me about Kentucky basketball fans," he said before adding that he believed those fans had "utter resentment and disdain" for him.

"It's also kind of a compliment when you get booed," Laettner said. "They've got to hate you for some reason."

As UK fans of a certain age well remember, and if they're not old enough they've probably seen countless replays, Laettner's game-winner began with him taking a three-quarter court inbounds pass from teammate Grant Hill. Pitino chose not to contest the inbounds pass.

With John Pelphrey and Deron Feldhaus defending, Laettner dribbled twice and shot a turnaround jumper from just beyond the foul line.

"We were very well trained in late-game situations," Laettner said of that pressure-packed 2.1-second span. After Sean Woods put UK ahead 103-102, "We knew to call timeout right away," Laettner said.

The Blue Devils had practiced the game-winning maneuver, and tweaked it late in the season, he said. It wasn't a luck shot, but he said that the Duke team had never successfully executed the play.

Laettner called getting a "good look" at the basket as key. "After that," he added, "it's up to God."

Kanter to play

Would-be UK player Enes Kanter is expected to play for the Big Blue All-Stars in the charity game.

"We're super excited to have him," organizer and former UK star Jeff Sheppard said.

The rest of the rosters are not set in stone, Sheppard said.

The Big Blue All-Stars are expected to include Rajon Rondo, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Chuck Hayes, Jodie Meeks, Tayshaun Prince, Nazr Mohammed and Kanter, Sheppard said.

The Villains may include Terrence Williams of Louisville, Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, Nolan Smith of Duke, Eric Gordon of Indiana, Zach Randolph of Michigan State and Rudy Gay of Connecticut.

Sheppard also noted Kenneth Faried of Morehead State and Lexington native Shelvin Mack of Butler might play for the Villains. When asked about Mack being a "villain," Sheppard said the former Bryan Station star could play for the Big Blue All-Stars.

Tickets

Tickets — priced from $25 to $250 — will go on sale Monday via Ticketmaster.com or by calling Rupp Arena at (859) 233-3535.

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