Former Duke basketball player Christian Laettner is best remembered for his game-winning shot in the 1992 Elite Eight against Kentucky, giving the Blue Devils a 104-103 win in overtime. Laettner is joining former Kentucky basketball player Jeff Sheppard prior to Tuesday’s Duke-Kentucky game to honor Dick Vitale’s work with the V Foundation. Named after and started by former N.C. State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, the V Foundation awards grants for cancer research. The event, titled the “Big Blue Salute to Dickie V.” will include auctions of Duke and Kentucky basketball memorabilia, with the profits benefiting the fund.
The Chronicle: How did this event with you and Jeff Sheppard get started?
Christian Laettner: He and I decided to do something before the Duke-Kentucky game, to have a pep-rally party in honor of Dickie V., and we’re going to present Dick Vitale with a check. All the proceeds will go to the Jimmy V Foundation because Dick has done a lot of work with the Jimmy V Foundation over the years and so have I. So, we’re throwing a party before the game and looking forward to having some fun, and then we’re going over to the game and see who wins and gets the bragging rights.
TC: It must be a pretty good cause to bring you and Jeff Sheppard—a Duke player and a Kentucky player—together, right?
CL: Exactly, that’s what we’re thinking. All jokes aside, it’s two of the most historic, storied programs in all of college basketball—Kentucky basketball and Duke basketball…. It’s just a great cause and a great time and everything just kind of came together where we were able to put it together.
When I was in high school you dream of playing in the college level and when you’re at the college level you want to in the NBA. But while you’re working your way up to the college level, one of the things that inspires you is Dickie V. and the way that he broadcasts and commentates the game and the amount of passion he has for the game. He was very inspirational when I was in high school, and even still today.
TC: Talking about that passion, does it get any better than a game like Duke-Kentucky Tuesday night?
CL: The only way it gets more intense is because Dickie V. is calling the game. The Duke-UK game is going to be a great game—two top-ten teams, a lot of history there. I’ll be there, and I’m sure I’ll get booed a little bit. Calipari vs. Coach K, that’s two of the best coaches in the college game.
TC: And there may not be more a memorable moment between the schools than “The Shot” in the 1992 NCAA Tournament?
CL: It just keeps getting bigger and bigger every year. It gets more historic and more legendary, and I just try to enjoy it as much as possible. The really neat part is that my kids are getting older and they’re starting to understand what it means and what it was for and what it’s about, so it’s very interesting to watch their reaction.
TC: Did you realize at the time it would become such a hallmark moment?
CL: I didn’t think it at the time. I didn’t even think it an hour later or a day later, but as time wore on, every day and every week I’m starting to realize how important it was.
TC: Do you have a prediction for the game?
CL: I think Duke’s going to win. They’re going to have so much more experience on the court with the three seniors. Kentucky has got a really, really young team. I expect Kentucky to be excellent by the season’s end and I don’t think they’re excellent quite yet. I think Duke will be able to sneak one out.