Whenever Christian Laettner returns to Buffalo, he tries to make the most of it.
Laettner, a local legend beginning with his 2,066 career points at Nichols School who went on to earn national recognition playing for Duke, the 1992 Dream Team and 13 seasons in the NBA, returned to Buffalo to host his Christian Laettner Basketball Academy at Nichols.
The camp ran from Monday to Wednesday for ages 6 to 18. For $165, young basketball players – boys and girls – had camp seven hours a day with one of the most accomplished players in college basketball history and one of the most talented athletes to come out of Buffalo. About 100 kids took part in the camp, which focused mostly on fundamentals such as catching, passing, dribbling and layups.
Laettner finished his NBA career in 2005 and started his academy in 2011.
“I don’t get to spend enough time here, or much time here at all, so I had to force it to happen,” Laettner said about hosting a camp in Buffalo. “I said, ‘I have to go up there and work and do basketball.’”
Laettner, who lives in Florida, visits family, friends, the home in which he grew up in Angola, and various food places when he’s in Buffalo. There are even things he misses that one wouldn’t think someone living in Florida would want to experience again.
“I miss the weather, the nice, cool weather,” Laettner said. “Missed friends, family. And I always miss the food because they got great food up here.”
Specifically, he missed the soft-shell tacos from Elmwood Taco and Subs. Laettner said he’s had a meal from there every day since he’s been back.
He also enjoys being able to work with kids from his native area. Laettner said he loves basketball and the transition to a basketball academy after playing made sense for him.
“It’s more than knowing a lot about it,” Laettner said. “If you have to work or you have to do something, you might as well at least do something that you love and I love basketball. I could stand up on my feet seven hours a day running back and forth doing camp but if I was doing something else standing up seven hours a day, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
ESPN aired a documentary in March called “I Hate Christian Laettner.” It’s clear, however, that sentiment doesn’t get much traction in Buffalo.
Joel Perrotti, a 15-year-old from Buffalo who goes to school at Old Time Baptist, won the MVP award for the oldest age group and called Laettner his hero. He was one of more than 100, parents included, waiting for Laettner’s autograph after the camp.
“It was a great experience,” Perrotti said. “The coaches were a very good help. Christian Laettner was very encouraging.”
As for Laettner’s next step, he said he’s very happy and busy teaching at his academy. He works clinics in Florida, Wisconsin and Illinois as well as Buffalo. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be open to coaching.
“I would consider it if the opportunity came across my desk,” Laettner said. “But right now, this is going so good and I’m so busy and so active doing this that I’m just going to keep plugging away doing this as hard as I can, as long as I can, as many as I can, as big as I can and keep letting my basketball academy grow.”
The camp also featured scrimmages and competitions in pressure situations. Laettner stressed the importance of performing under pressure when addressing the crowd at the end of his camp.
After all, the all-time NCAA Tournament scoring leader and two-time national champion knows a thing or two about pressure.