Thursday, March 22, 2001

Battier too good, and all true


Duke star lives up to stellar image

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        PHILADELPHIA — Believe the hype. Shane Battier is all you could ask and more than you could expect — basketball star of surprising depth and surpassing drive. Too good to be true, only better.

        “I don't think you can top this kid,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Wednesday on the eve of the NCAA Tournament's East Regional. “He has maturity beyond his years off the court. He's really smart and is an honest person. In a couple of years, I'm going to get all the elderly people together — Campaign 2020 — and get him elected. In my early 20s, I know I didn't know anyone like him. Including me.”

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Shane Battier hoists the ACC championship trophy.
(AP photo)
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        Battier, the Blue Devils' angelic All-American, probably will be named college basketball's player of the year, but to describe him so narrowly is to miss the essential man. Think of Battier as a Bill Bradley with charisma — an athlete who excels at a high level with the aptitude to make a larger mark in the larger world.

        Duke associate athletic director Chris Kennedy emerged from his first encounter with Battier to tell his wife: “I just met a kid who's going to be president someday.” Krzyzewski, ever succinct, simply calls him, “a wow guy.”

A complex kid

        Because athletes are often portrayed in platitudes, it is natural to wonder how closely the real person conforms to the image. Because Battier's reputation precedes him like a path strewn with rose petals, it is prudent to inquire whether he is the genuine article or the product of a calculated marketing campaign.

        This much is beyond dispute: Battier is an Academic All-American who is on schedule to graduate this spring; a Rhodes Scholarship candidate who chose instead to chase the NCAA championship; the chairman of the executive committee of the Student Basketball Council, a body created to give athletes a voice in an industry that generates billions in revenue; an accomplished trumpet player; and perhaps the only player on the planet whose working vocab
ulary includes epiphany and symbiotic. Battier once described himself on a Duke questionnaire as, “Complex and pseudo-intellectual, yet laid-back and simple.” He once conducted a Duke admissions interview in German. He once credited an offensive breakout against Maryland to a Discovery Channel program on the inner strength — or chi — of the Shaolin monks of China.

        At the age of 3, Battier asked his mother if she thought he would make a good president. As an 11th-grader in Birmingham, Mich., he delivered a commencement address — at a high school he didn't attend.

Proud, yet humble

        If some of Battier's achievements and virtues have been exaggerated in college basketball's search for a suitable symbol, some of this stuff is pretty hard to fake.

        Krzyzewski acknowledges his star forward's story is almost “too storybook,” and his teammates take pains to puncture popular myths. Battier does not devote all his spare time to intellectual pursuits and charitable endeavors. He spends a lot of his time watching SportsCenter from a lime-green garage-sale recliner. For laughs, he likes to startle strangers with comically twisted false teeth.

        “He's a normal guy 20 hours a day,” says roommate Mike Dunleavy. Unlike a lot of elite players, though, Battier does not define himself by his deeds on the court. If top-ranked Duke should fail to win the NCAA championship, Battier still will have other worlds to conquer.

        “I tell you what,” he said Wednesday. “I think there have been more people satisfied with less than I've accomplished in my career. I'm extremely proud and humbled to have had the career that I've had.

        “If I don't win that championship, will I be disappointed? No question. Will I be unfulfilled? No. I'm just very lucky to have played at a place like Duke and to have seen the things I've seen. That said, it would be pretty sweet to go out on top.”

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.

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