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Laettner brings 'Shot' memories to northland: Remembered for iconic moment, ex-Duke star hosting a camp this weekend

Former NBA player Christian Laettner walks across the court after a ceremony during the second quarter of the game between the Washington Wizards and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Verizon Center on Feb. 13. (Tommy Gilligan / USA TODAY Sports)

ESKO, Minn. — Christian Laettner knows the question will be asked this weekend at Esko, where he's overseeing a three-day basketball clinic.

It always is.

Will one of college basketball's all-time greats try to recreate The Shot, a moment in sports history as iconic as Kirk Gibson's fist pump, Dwight Clark's catch or Michael Jordan's shoulder shrug?

"Once they see how old I am, they won't ask me that," Laettner, 48, joked by phone recently from his home in Jacksonville, Florida. "I don't even think I can dunk anymore.

"I have it worked out where I just stand there like a big, tall dummy."

Quick refresher: With 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime of the 1992 East Regional final and Duke trailing Kentucky 103-102, Laettner received Grant Hill's 78-foot inbounds heave near the free-throw line, faked to his right, spun left before elevating and, fading away, swished home the game-winner.

The Blue Devils went on to win their second straight national title, which followed a runner-up finish when Laettner was a sophomore and a mere Final Four appearance the year prior.

Laettner's unprecedented success while playing for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke earned him a roster spot on the 1992 Dream Team, where he was the lone collegian on a squad that obliterated the "competition" en route to an Olympic gold medal. It also spurred the Timberwolves to draft the polarizing Laettner — ESPN did a 30 for 30 documentary titled "I hate Christian Laettner" — No. 3 overall.

In other words, he brings some star power to Esko.

"We don't get that many great basketball players willing to come to the Northland — to Esko, Minnesota — and put on a camp," said Eskomos coach Mike Devney, who facilitated the three-day Christian Laettner Basketball Academy.

Realistically, it wasn't a tough recruitment.

Laettner spoke fondly of his three-plus seasons with the Timberwolves, during which he averaged 17.2 points and 8.1 rebounds. He enjoyed his time in Minnesota and, more than 20 years later, expresses disappointment at the trade that sent him to Atlanta and touched off a nomadic 13-year NBA career.

Returning will allow Laettner to reconnect with old friends. He has other plans, as well.

"I might get some fishing in," he said.

Hopefully the lakes aren't frozen over, Christian.

Upon retiring in 2005, Laettner took some time away from the game. It wasn't long before he missed it, gradually getting back into the gym and, starting in 2010, running camps and clinics. The son of a coach, Laettner is a stickler for the small stuff, the fundamentals. That's the way he was taught.

Even over the phone last week, you could practically see him cringing as he discussed incessant, aimless dribbling.

Clinic-goers, beware.

"I love challenging the young players to play 5-on-5 in game situations, and do it without dribbling. They hate it at first, they stink at it at first, but after 10 minutes of me pulling my hair out and blowing the whistle, they start to get it," Laettner, an NBA All-Star in 1997 while with the Hawks, said. "They start to cut and move and pass and play good basketball. It's really fun to see stuff like that.

"I love teaching them some of the things my dad taught me when I was young. And I love teaching the older kids some of the things that I learned from Coach K and in the NBA."

Because Laettner's greatest hits occurred when today's high school players weren't yet a thought bubble, they aren't as familiar with his career — The Shot, the 21 NCAA tournament victories, the headband and the solid production as a pro.

Laettner says it's the parents who are more apt to want pictures.

Devney agreed.

"We got more interest from parents and people in their 40s, 50s and 60s than we did from high school kids," he said of this weekend.

Laettner on the Wolves

Laettner's Timberwolves stint was characterized by losing. Lots of losing. That's not to say they didn't improve with Laettner on board, because they did. Consistently, too. They went from 19 wins in 1992-93 to 20 the next year and 21 in 1994-95.

He attributes much of it to instability. Laettner says he always was learning a new playbook.

"The only thing that was ever even slightly disappointing about the NBA was they traded people around and gave up on people so fast," he said. "And, God, they changed coaches so fast when I was there, so many times, and it makes things more challenging."

What about the current Wolves? Laettner still follows them and is pulling hard for an upstart club with precocious young talent in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, plus Jimmy Butler and company. Laettner straddled the fence when asked if this is the year Minnesotans once again experience playoff basketball.

"I'm going to say the same thing I always say," he said. "I hope they hang onto (Coach Tom) Thibodeau, hang onto their three or four biggest star players and give those guys a chance to jell and mold together and build some chemistry as they get older. Some of those guys are so young, so I think they have great potential."

• All coaches and players — as well as their parents — are welcome at this weekend's clinic. For more information, email Devney at michael.devney@isd709.org or call (218) 310-3968.

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