|Christian Laettner remains something of an engaging public enemy for Kentucky fans. (US Presswire)|
ATLANTA -- Kentucky freshman Willie Cauley-Stein leaned against a wall Monday, took questions from the media and created a few laughs when he at first seemed baffled and then acknowledged openly that he's never seen or heard of one of the most famous shots in NCAA history -- that jumper launched in Philadelphia by Duke's Christian Laettner.
"I don't even know who that is," Cauley-Stein said. "What is that?"
That is Duke-Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional -- a game the Blue Devils won 104-103 in overtime when Grant Hill threw a length-of-the-court pass to Laettner, who buried a one-bounce turnaround jumper as the final 2.1 seconds expired. Verne Lundquist yelled. Thomas Hill cried. Duke went on to win its second consecutive national championship.
Ring a bell?
"That's before me," Cauley-Stein said. "I don't know."
Your thoughts, Mr. Laettner?
"We're definitely getting old and that makes you realize it more and more," Laettner said, laughing on the phone Monday afternoon. "But in our minds it doesn't seem that long ago because every March it gets brought back up. It's always been in between the back-burner and the front-burner. So it never leaves our consciousness."
Duke and Kentucky will play for the fourth time since that 1992 East Regional -- and for the first time in more than a decade -- late Tuesday here at the Georgia Dome in a game Laettner will attend. It'll be the first time he's experienced a Duke-Kentucky game since that Duke-Kentucky game, and that it'll be decided by lots of players who weren't even alive when he sank The Shot is kinda wild, isn't it?
Cauley-Stein was born in 1993.
Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon was born in 1994.
I was born in 1977. So I was 15 when Laettner created history, and I remember it well. I watched the game at my Dad's friend's house. The guy's name was Bernie. I can't remember Bernie's last name right now. But I remember his couch. And I remember jumping off his couch when Laettner caught the pass and made the shot and ended what some have called the greatest college basketball game ever played.
I'll never forget that shot.
Millions of Kentucky fans won't, either.
"I would say most of them still give me shit every time they see me," Laettner said. "There are a few that will say, 'You know, I respect you. It was a great play. But I'll never like you.' And then there are some who are like, 'We still hope you die tomorrow.' "
Even so, Laettner doesn't hide from them. He participated in an exhibition at Rupp Arena between the Big Blue All-Stars and The Villains last year. (Needless to say, Laettner was the lead villain.) And he'll be front and center again Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET when he and former Kentucky great Jeff Sheppard co-host a pregame party honoring ESPN's Dick Vitale at Ventanas in downtown Atlanta. There will be an opportunity for fans to take photos with Laettner and Sheppard, and a silent auction, too. All proceeds benefit the V Foundation.
"I love Dickie V and this is a great opportunity to honor him while two of college basketball's most historic programs get together," Laettner said. "We're gonna have a little tailgate."
And then the game will tip and millions will watch on television. At some point early and probably throughout, ESPN will show Laettner catch that ball and sink that shot and run with both arms in the air. It'll be a highlight that predates (and apparently confuses) some of Tuesday night's participants but one most of us remember like it was yesterday.
"It's a very proud moment for me," Laettner said. "And it just keeps getting bigger and bigger."