Duke University Alumni Magazine

by Shane Battier

Photo: Bruce Feeley

It was Basketball Times that dubbed Shane Battier "the most sought-after high school player in the country." In a profile from December of 1996--Battier's senior year in high school--the publication called him "something close to perfect": an academic achiever at a competitive Michigan high school, an athlete who shows both elegance and a physical style of play on the court, and an individual with a big smile, an intelligent sense of humor, and an unfailing politeness.

ven before they scored their first baskets, the Duke freshman class--William Avery, Elton Brand, Chris Burgess, and Battier--had earned plenty of accolades. As the season progressed, more would come their way. For Battier, those included being named to the 1998 Atlantic Coast Conference All-Freshmen Team, earning a place on Basketball Times' All-Freshmen Third Team, and taking ACC Rookie of the Week honors in January. He finished the season placing third on the team for most minutes played, shooting over 50 percent from the floor, accumulating the team's second highest rebounding average, leading the team in blocked shots, placing second on the team in steals, and leading the team in charges taken.

Duke won the ACC regular season, although it lost in the ACC tournament finals. It lost only one regular-season conference game--and never lost at home in Cameron Indoor Stadium. In April, Duke made it to the NCAA regional finalsĐthe Elite Eight--where it was edged out by Kentucky. It ended the season with thirty-two wins and four losses.

Last fall, Duke Magazine asked Battier to keep a season journal. As it turned out, it was a remarkable season for Duke basketball--and for Duke basketball's Shane Battier.

October 17

Words really can't do justice to all the fear and excitement that I feel right now. Although the season began the first week of school with our first conditioning, individual workouts, and scrimmages, the season truly starts in a couple of hours when the clock strikes 12 and the Midnight Madness begins. As I stand in the corner of Cameron watching everybody file into the gym, I have so many questions and so many hopes. Am I ready? Has my work paid off? Will college basketball be everything it is hyped up to be and possibly more? I sit with Chris Burgess as we repeatedly ask each other, "Could this be real?"

Duke basketball is sacred. Every time I put on that practice jersey, I look at the name Duke and wonder if this could possibly be true. Then, as if the gods themselves were listening, they send down the one man synonymous with College Basketball, Mr. Dick Vitale. In an instant, all my questions about the realities of my situation were erased. Cameron Crazies. Dick Vitale. Duke basketball. It doesn't get any more real, and better, than this.

Sitting in the locker room before the game, hearing the band play, feeling the excitement, makes me realize how fortunate I am. Pressure. No Fear. Well, a little. Indescribable emotion. Most definitely.

October 18

The feeling I got when I ran onto Cameron's floor for the first time with 9,000 screaming maniacs is a cross between opening presents Christmas morning, opening up all the candy on Halloween, prom nights, and the first day of school. Midnight Madness was in fact every bit as mad as it was hyped up to be. As we ran out to get in lay-up lines, the noise, heat, sweat, and electricity of Cameron hit me. It was one of the best feelings ever. Growing up, I could never imagine an arena with this intensity. I think it's safe to say that tonight, I jumped higher than I ever have when I went through lay-up lines. And the funny thing is that I could have jumped a little higher--maybe.

My seconds of pure adrenaline energy eventually came back to hurt me. After the lay-up lines, the game started and I had no energy left to do anything worthwhile. Now that I look back upon it, I would not change a thing. I gave the crowd a show and loved every minute. Forget the fact that I was terrible in the game. One of the highlights, however, was awesome. After the introduction of the players, Coach K invited the "true Sixth Man" onto the floor for our team picture. The whole crowd came down from the stands and mobbed us. Just to see the excitement of everyone was well worth the near injury we faced as we were almost stampeded by the Crazies. Basketball is an amazing thing to bring so many so close to each other.

After we pushed through the crowd and made it back into the locker room, all I could do was sit at my locker and stare into space. Mentally and physically, I was drained. I must have lost about ten pounds from sweat (those who know about the intense Cameron heat know what I'm talking about), and the best part about it is that, in six hours, I get to wake up and start real practice. Welcome to College Basketball!

Note: For all the fun that last night brought, I am definitely paying for it now as I try to roll out of my bed and convince myself that mixing it up with a bunch of guys 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds is actually worth getting out of bed for. When I was being recruited, they didn't tell me I'd be this sore. And only six months to go.

October 25

After a week of practice, we finally got to show what we can do at the Blue-White scrimmage. My day was pretty low-key; I just hung around in my dorm and relaxed. Come game time, I got pretty excited, but not like Midnight Madness. I was going to be ready to play this time.

As I came out for the game, the Crazies were loud and raucous. It's Parents' Weekend, so it's not vintage Cameron, but the parents surprised me with their energy. I felt good; this would be my coming-out party. As the tip went up and the game started, I wanted to get with the flow of the game. I scored the first four points via rebounds, I hit a three, then "It" happened. I saw a loose ball and I dived for it. Unfortunately, my teammate, Elton Brand, had the same idea. We butted heads. And I lost. I lay back on the floor hoping nothing had happened. However, like a great red flood, a cut over my eye opened up. It

didn't hurt, but I was pretty mad because I was playing pretty well. Coach K came out to see how I was, since a pint of blood was on

the floor. I told him the only thing I worried about was my modeling career. I got up and ran off the court to a standing ovation from the Crazies. It was great. The trainer, Dave, put butterfly strips on my eye and I ran onto the court to another standing "O" (I could get used to these ovations).

My coach immediately put me into the game, I hit two three-pointers, and my team won. I finished leading all scorers and rebounders with sixteen points and six rebounds. I know everyone will expect that every time I step onto the court. Oh, well, I'll live with it! I'm ready to start playing some real games.

November 8

Tonight we finally got some competition. We played Australia; most of the team were adult players who had played in the Olympics. We played so bad in the first half and were only losing by one, even though we gave up forty-nine points. We picked it up in the second half, however, and pulled out the five-point win. Even though it was an exhibition game, Coach K and the coaching staff and the players made it seem like the middle of the ACC season. Personally, I thought I played all right--not great, not bad. It's been kind of difficult to change my role from being the franchise in high school to being a cog in college. But I'm starting to develop a passion for defense. Even though we pulled out a win tonight, we all know we can play so much better. So I know I'd better enjoy my day off tomorrow, because I have a feeling practice on Monday is not going to be a cakewalk.

Photo: Bob Donnan

November 10

Cakewalk? Well, practice was more like boot camp today. First we went over the tape of the Australia game, analyzing every--and I mean every--mistake we made. I have a feeling tape sessions are not going to be my favorite times, but I understand they are crucial to becoming a championship team--though they really put a dent in the ego. Some of the mistakes we make are so brain-numbing, it seems only a complete idiot would commit them, as Coach K will not hesitate to point out. We knew we could have played much, much better than we did; I think we all know our potential as a team, and that we are not close to that level now.

November 12

Days off go by faster than just about anything. Especially at Duke, when homework always looms on the horizon, off days do not have the same meaning as before. Maybe they should call them "less-work days." Nevertheless, I wouldn't trade them for anything. I'm just really tired of practicing and beating on my teammates. I'm ready for the real games to start, and start they will: We have eight games in two and a half weeks. I'm not complaining, though. This is what I've been waiting for.

November 24

For those who merely follow us on Sportscenter or in the paper, they may hear of how special a coach Coach K really is. But only if you deal with him on a daily basis do you truly appreciate him. Today we played Chaminade in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. We played great in spurts, but awful (by our standards) in other spurts. We still won the game, 106-70. Even though we held a thirty-point advantage, we knew we didn't play well. Coach K was more than willing to let us know in the locker room. He gave us a verbal tongue-lashing after our less-than-Duke-like performance.

Some may think, wrongly, that Coach K is merely overreacting and is an ultra-perfectionist to a fault. Well, needless to say, the locker room was silent, as was the ride back to the hotel and post-game meal. You'd have thought we just lost in the "Sweet 16" round in the NCAA tourney and not just beaten a team by thirty. Coach K is a master psychologist, however, and he would never let his players get the feeling they are bad basketball players. So at the evening meeting, he reiterated all of our faults during the game and

his concerns for the team, but he quickly showed us how special a team we could be if we started to do the little things that win championships. All of a sudden we went from a discouraged team to a hungry team ready for all comers. This is the power of Coach K.

November 25

I can't wait. Today we play the reigning national champions, Arizona. Even though the game is ten hours away, I can feel the anticipation. In our meeting, Coach K stressed not to feel nervous but to anticipate the game. It's not too often you get to test yourself against a Top 5 team so early; this is a great chance for our young team to grow. We know Arizona is more experienced and cocky right now. I have a feeling we are going to play well, and if we can do the little things, there is no doubt we'll win.

Well, we did it. We beat the champs. It's really scary to see our potential--we were up at one point by twenty-six. Even though we are young, we are young and good. There's a big difference. Wojo played his tail off and locked up the All-American Mike Bibby. He deservedly won the MVP. I've never seen him that happy. He deserves it: He's probably the most underrated player in the country. Now that we've taken care of business, it's time to enjoy Maui.

December 14

We suffered our first defeat of the year at Michigan, and for me it couldn't have come at a worse time. It was the first time I had been home since I came to Duke. It was pretty surreal. Ever since I was a little kid, Crisler Arena seemed so far, so distant, I could never visualize myself playing there. It was the home of the Fab Five, Glen Rice, and a whole bunch of players better than I. But there I was yesterday, thrust into the sheer madness of it. It still really hasn't hit me that I'm at Duke, playing, starting for the (formerly) Number-One team in the nation. I really don't get nervous for games, but this was a new experience. I got booed for the first time in my life. Being from Detroit, I heard every "sell-out" chant in the book. It didn't bother me, though. After nineteen years of playing the "good guy," it felt pretty cool to play the bad guy.

Yesterday was also the first time we did not control the game. We got so eager to blow them out, that we did not play Duke basketball. I forgot what it felt like to be losing in a game, experiencing that nauseating feeling of exasperation. It was a feeling, however, that one must have in order to become a championship team. We have to crave that feeling of going into an opposing gym, silencing the crowd, and looking into the other team's eyes and seeing fear. And then we rip their hearts out, win the game, and have a nice dinner afterwards. This is what being a road warrior is about. We will get there, too. Unfortunately we had to find out about this at one of my "favorite" places--home.

December 20

I really thank the Lord that finals are over. I've never been as stressed as I am now. Even though I went to a very academically challenging high school where a good portion of my classmates went Ivy League, nothing would prepare me for the anxiety I faced during my first finals at Duke. The Michigan trip did not help my cause, either. Being gone the weekend before finals did not make me too confident. Nevertheless, I poured every last bit of energy I had left in the semester toward studying and preparing.

Did I forget to mention the fact that we still had the intense practices of the Number-Two Blue Devils? Even though I love the game of basketball, the idea of butting heads and banging elbows with a bunch of 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9, 260-pound giants is not really music to my ears. Mentally and physically, I can sense I have hit a proverbial "wall." My whole attitude and appearance have changed. I have no desire to do anything but sit on my bed and listen to Beethoven and Wynton Marsalis. I made it through, though. I guess it must be true that what doesn't kill you only makes you strong. Regardless of my results, I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

December 22

After we crushed Mercer today, I'm finally going home for the first time since I've been at Duke. I really haven't been homesick that much, but it's good to know I'll be under my own covers tonight. It's a much-needed break from hoops. I need to step away from the game and totally refresh my mind, body, and spirit and rediscover my love for the game.

December 30

The first true test of this team's character came today and will continue for the remainder of the season. Our leading rebounder, scorer, future player-of-the-year, and NBA lottery pick Elton Brand (A.K.A. Big E) went down with a broken foot. He's going to have surgery and he's out for the rest of the season. It couldn't have come at a more ironic time. Coach K had just explained the keys to success. Undoubtedly, it started with Elton; he was our constant, and we could always count on him for sixteen points and seven or eight boards a game. At first, everyone was in shock: How could this man-child, this beast under the boards, be humbled by the insignificant 5 metacarpal that broke in his right foot?

This is where the uniqueness of our team comes in. Most teams would just feel sorry for themselves after losing their leading scorer and rebounder, and self-destruct. Our team just picked itself off the ground, brushed off the hurt from our fall, and said, "Let's kick some tail." No one person in the country can replace Elton. He is that good. But if everyone else picks up his game to the next level, we will still be in for a special season.

A wise man once said: "Success is not measured in accomplishments, but in the ability to overcome adversity."

Photo: Bob Donnan

January 2

I feel like I'm in the NBA right now, because all we do is wake up, play ball, eat, and sleep. I have no other responsibility. No school. No friends keeping me up. Just ball. But for two weeks we have nothing to do but play ball. I'm not complaining.

January 5

Tonight we really gained a true sense of how lethal we can become. We stopped Maryland by forty at their place! It started with Trajan hitting a three right after the jump-ball, and the onslaught never ended. It was one of our best games of the year. Though usually defensive-minded, I hit a career-high eighteen points. We have a great chance of achieving success, and tonight we got a taste of it, because no one goes to someone's house and wins by forty in the ACC.

Right now we are ranked Number Two in the country. It's kinda funny, though, because no one really thinks about or mentions the rankings. We all know we have much bigger plans than the rankings. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but with all the young talent coming in and already here, we shouldn't be out of the top five teams in the country for the next five years. For Duke that is no surprise: As a university, Duke is synonymous with the best.

January 7

Two weeks in a hotel is long enough. I miss my own bed, my shower, my room. The NBA lifestyle was cool for a week. But I'm ready to go back to my old ways.

January 17

After a close game vs. Clemson, we finally had a close game at home. Blowing a twenty-point lead, we escaped with a one-point win. Everyone plays their hardest against us. But that's okay, because we give them our best shot, too. I'm quickly learning why the ACC is the superior conference in the country.

February 4

I really can't add anything that hasn't been said about the Duke-Carolina game. So on the eve of this game, I'm just glad we're done talking to the media horde that surrounds this game, and glad we're about to play the game. The media attention for this game and the hype around it is unbelievable. Growing up in Michigan, I always knew the Duke-UNC game was around because they started the countdown three weeks away! The biggest question for me was: "Are you nervous for this game?" I honestly am not nervous; I am eager and really anticipating the game, but I'm not nervous. We are approaching the game like every other--like our biggest game of the year. We know the season is larger than any one game. Regardless of the outcome tomorrow night, we will still be on our track. But how sweet it will feel to walk among the Carolina Blue with a "W."

February 5

This is probably one of the most sickening feelings I've ever experienced in my life. I'm talking about the UNC game. Yes, we got our heads handed to us; yes, we played bad; yes, I played like "a freshman" for the first time. I refuse to feel like this ever again. I really have a sense of what this rivalry is all about. Let's just say it's unfortunate I had to have a baptism by fire. We were humiliated in front of a national audience. Coach K wasn't too pleased with us, and I felt I personally let down everyone associated with Duke. It won't happen again.

February 17

If that last entry was kind of short, I wanted to put that loss behind me now--even though that game will be in the back of my head for the next three and a half years! Especially with our very NCAA-tournament-like, fourteen-game stretch coming up with games at Clemson, UCLA, Georgia Tech, and, of course, the rematch vs. UNC. I've also picked up my game since the Carolina game; Coach K (very loudly and clearly) told me I needed to stop riding the proverbial "deferral train" where I don't assert myself because I'm a freshman. Those days are over.

February 19

We won our most convincing road match of the year, a real war at Clemson. Roshown and Trajan played huge where it counted. Ro had twenty-three and Tra had a huge three and three-point play when it counted. (Even I got into the act with a big block!) We are playing well and, much to our surprise, Elton is coming back next game! Talk about momentum! Ranked Number Two in the country, tied for first in the ACC, playing well, and having one of our best players coming back--life is good!

February 20

Elton practiced today for the first time. I forgot what it felt like to try to fight him in the post. I compare it to Atlas holding up the weight of the world. But I'm not complaining!

February 21

We are now Number One again after UNC's unfortunate loss vs. N.C. State. But it's kind of funny that we're as excited as elementary-school kids on sloppy-joe day at lunch. Just another day at the office.

February 26

This place is going crazy over "the rematch." Electricity is at an all-time high. People are going insane, especially since Elton is back. Now things will be different.

February 27

Well, it's the night before "The Game," and the team went through K-ville tonight (pop. 1,400 strong). It was a huge party! As we waded our way through, we developed a following comparable to the Beatles. Duke fans are the best. There really is no comparison to any other fans anywhere.

As we walked through the tents, we had been taking a lot of pictures with everybody. Well, as I was posing for a picture, somebody yelled out, "Who's your daddy?," to which somebody replied, "Battier!" And thus a chant was born. They repeated this chant about twenty times. All I could do was sit back, smile, and soak up the craziness that is the Cameron Crazies. Time to go to bed: I have some 'Heels to deal with tomorrow.

February 28

Unbelievable! It all seems like a blur right now. Of course I'm talking about the Carolina game, Part II. At one point in the second half, we were down seventeen points. But we came back and won in an incredible fashion. In need of a bastion of stability, we rode the "El-train" to a victory. We played great basketball for the last eleven minutes. Our only lead of the game came with twenty-two seconds left in the game via a basket by Roshown. After UNC missed some big free throws and the buzzer sounded, all I felt was a wave of emotion shoot through my body. I looked around for someone to hug as the crowd stampeded onto the court, mobbing us.

Before I knew it, J.D. Simpson and Chris Burgess gang-tackled me, as we tried to just take in every precious moment of our obvious peak of the season thus far. After the game, we went and just hung out with the crowd. It finally hit us that we would never play on this floor again as a team, which is kind of sad. I'm happy that our seniors were able to go out on top with a great win today.

March 4

The ACC tourney is up next. And honestly, I don't know how to feel. I mean, I want to win more than anything, but this week-long tourney is very different. We've just completed the season as the only team ever in the ACC to have won fifteen games. That in itself is an incredible feat. Even though we've had an incredible season, it is very difficult to bask in our success right now, since we are in the midst of approaching our higher goals. It will be much easier to sit back and enjoy our success once the season is over. But now we're just worrying about UVa.

We didn't play particularly well against UVa. today. No excuse, we just didn't play well.

March 7

After a close game with Clemson, where Will Avery was the hero with a last-second shot, it's Duke-UNC III. Playing them is almost old hat now! Compared to the first game, when my nerves were shot, I'm as cool as the other side of the pillow for this game. We were the ACC regular season champs and won an unprecedented fifteen games in conference play. But we still have not "locked up" the Number One seed in the East with a potential regional game in nearby Greensboro, where the home-court advantage might prove to be the difference. Rumor has it that the winner of this game will get Number One in the East and the loser Number One in the South. In terms of the larger picture, this is a pretty big game.

March 8

Well, we hung tough but lost. We didn't necessarily play bad, but not great, either. Win or lose, it is not a time to dwell on the ACC tourney, because, in an hour, we'll find out who we'll play in the NCAA tournament.

It's really surreal to sit at the tournament selection show and finally be a part of all the talk about RPI ratings, strength of schedule, and at-large bids. Only at this time do you ever hear of teams like Prairie View A&M;, Radford, College of Charleston, and Northern Arizona alongside Arizona, Duke, and Kansas.

As expected, we got the shaft from the tournament selection committee, instead of being rewarded for our unprecedented regular season, not to mention losing only once since February (how you finish the season plays a large role in seeding). We are being shipped out to Lexington, to Kentucky Wildcat land. What's even worse is that Kentucky, arguably the top Number Two seed, is in our regional.

March 12

It's finally upon us--March Madness. It's surreal to have gone from seeing the games for so many years growing up. And now, not only am I in the middle of the madness, we are expected to win the damn thing. As we prepare to play Radford in the first round, I remember all the times I would try to play hooky from school so that I could watch

the games on CBS starting at noon on Thursday and Friday. I can't wait to get this show rolling. Everyone says we're too young to make any noise and that we're still a year away. But we beg to differ. We're young, confident, and hungry, and other teams are

just scared as hell to play us. Youth can be a bad thing, but it is certainly a scary thing.

After receiving a "warm" reception from the fans in Lexington, we took care of Radford pretty handily. The fans in Lexington, home of the UK Wildcats, still hate us for knocking them out of the tournament thanks to Christian Laettner's "miracle shot." We take it all in stride and even laugh at it. When we decided to come to Duke, we knew we would be loved by few, hated by most, respected by all. The UK fans reminded us about something that has been missing in the last couple of years: Success breeds jealousy. Well, if things go right, in a couple of games we'll be able to give it to UK and all their fans.

March 15

Our game tonight vs. Oklahoma State was a tough one, but we played well enough to win. Again, we were welcomed by a chorus of boos and jeers, and we ran off the floor laughing all the way to the "Sweet Sixteen."

There is a lot being made of the fact that no one on the roster has ever advanced to the "Sweet Sixteen," but it's not really a big deal. The whole basketball community thinks that we can't win because we are young. Tell that to the Fab Five of Michigan.

March 19

Here we are in St. Petersburg, Florida, playing in the regional semifinals. The four teams here could be in the Final Four. Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, and Syracuse have all played in the finals in the last decade. The trip so far hasn't been too peachy: Our bus driver got us lost five minutes from the airport. We must have circled the same block five times. The hotel we stayed in wasn't what we were used to, either. It felt more like we were on spring break than playing in the NCAA tourney. It's cold and raining. But we are here to win ball games, not to enjoy a vacation.

March 20

After our great win vs. Syracuse, when the freshmen really stepped up, it sets up a rematch of the greatest college basketball game ever: Duke vs. Kentucky. Anyone who knows anything about college basketball knows about the shot Christian Laettner hit against Kentucky at the buzzer to propel Duke into the Final Four and eventually the championship in 1992. The media are really hyping the history behind the game. All of us were only in high school and middle school when this happened, so it is not really a big deal for us.

March 22

We came up a little short and lost the game today. We squandered a seventeen-point lead and now before you know it, the season is over. This is one of the lowest feelings of my life. The feeling of something so special, now over. The seniors deserve better. Wojo, Roshown, Ricky, and Todd all deserve to get out on top. We have nothing to be ashamed of, though. We know we are one of the nation's top teams, and people everywhere waited for us to falter and lose big, but we never folded. It hurts right now; words just can't describe the feeling. Of course, there were tears but, either way, the season was going to end with tears of joy or tears of happiness. It's really odd to go to Cameron and feel its emptiness. All I can say now is that this year Duke was knocking on the door. Next year we are going to knock it down.

April 3

After taking a week off from everything basketball-related, it is much easier to reflect on the truly great season we completed. So often in life one forgets to stop and smell the proverbial flowers, and such was the case for us during the basketball season. High expectations are synonymous with Duke basketball. These expectations act as both blessings and curses. Only at a place like Duke would a season that falls short of a Final Four be considered an inability to achieve potential. Our 32-4 season will always be remembered with a plethora of "what-if's." In this regard, the high expectations are a curse.

How many schools, however, would give their left foot for a 32-4 season and a trip to the "Elite Eight"? There have been countless players in the history of basketball who have never experienced the thrill of playing in front of a sold-out, 45,000-seat stadium, or playing on television in front of a global audience. Few players have ever even come close to being ranked Number One in the nation in the polls. Some people spend their lives trying to make the cover of national publications. We have been fortunate to experience all of this.

A 32-4 season is an incredible display of basketball. After a brief sabbatical from the top echelon, Duke is back on top.

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