JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Christian Laettner doesn’t need the 24-second video, which has been replayed nearly 1.1 million times on YouTube alone, to revisit the pinnacle of his career. And the iconic photo, the one with his arms raised in victory and his mouth agape? He has a framed copy stashed away in storage.
In a world in which perception of Laettner doesn’t agree with reality, it’s fitting for everyone else to have an outside view of when he took his place in basketball history. His solitary moment has been saved to personal memory, allowing him to run the highlight reel at his own discretion, to rewind and pause whenever he feels the urge.
For one second, maybe less, Laettner enjoyed a moment of absolute peace accompanied by unbridled jubilation, internal silence amid the chaos, his own slice of heaven before all hell broke loose March 28, 1992, in the NCAA Tournament in the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
The ’92 East Regional final between Duke and Kentucky has withstood the test of time and maintained its place in basketball folklore. It has remained the standard for the best game ever in NCAA Tournament play, romanced in literature and film, two words defining its end and its impact on a pair of storied programs:
Twenty-five years later, in a JFK assassination sort of way, basketball fans old enough still remember exactly where they were the moment Laettner raised his right leg while jumping high to catch Grant Hill’s three-quarter court pass with 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime, a moment to many that will eternally remain in slow motion.
Laettner faked right, took one dribble, turned just beyond the foul line, faded away slightly and released the ball from his right hand. He wasn’t sure it was good.
But, man, it sure felt good. Damn good, actually. The ball began its descent, with players on both teams and fans across the nation watching and knowing it had a chance, given the source.
And, all of a sudden ...
“Bam!” Laettner said with a smile earlier this month while sitting in his home in Jacksonville.
And with the perfect shot came the reactions to the shot, a spontaneous combustion played out inside the Spectrum and across the country.
Laettner getting tackled by his teammates; Thomas Hill with his hands on his head, his face crunched into a ball, a collage of emotions that depicted the triumph of Duke, the dejection felt by Kentucky and “I can’t believe my eyes” sentiment shared by everyone.
Twenty-five years later, no matter how many times it has been replayed during the NCAA Tournament, or how many times he has explained his perfect ending to his perfect game, 10 for 10 from the field, 10 for 10 from the foul line and 31 points in a 104-103 victory, The Shot remains a sweet song in Laettner’s memory.
“You never really hear it,” he said. “You feel it and know that it’s happening. It’s so loud that your ears shut down a little bit. It was deafening.”
The Angola native and former Nichols School star is still hailed as one of the best players in the history of college basketball. It’s unlikely his all-time record for most points (407) in the NCAA tourney will ever be broken. He reached four Final Fours and won back-to-back national titles with Duke, the second coming a week after his defining moment.
Some believed it was the greatest game in history even before The Shot. Some believe Laettner should have been ejected for stepping on freshman Aminu Timberlake’s chest in the second half.
The News revisited the Duke-Kentucky game with those who participated, covered and watched. In addition to Laettner, they include:
* Duke teammates Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Thomas Hill;
* Kentucky captain John Pelphrey and Timberlake;
* play-by-play man Verne Lundquist,
* former Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan, who covered the game;
* Laettner’s parents, George and Bonnie Laettner, who attended the game;
* Nichols teammate and Duke baseball player Rick Torgalski, who watched from Florida; and
* Laettner’s childhood friend and neighbor, Mike Taylor, who watched on television with Tom Kwilos and Brett Borman, two other childhood friends of Laettner.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, now coaching at Louisville, did not respond to interview requests.
Nobody knew early that Duke-Kentucky would be remembered 25 years later. Most expected a routine win in which the Blue Devils controlled an inferior team from start to finish and advanced. Kentucky, recovering from scandal with a group of Unforgettables finishing their senior year, refused to buckle.
It became a game for the ages.
Laettner: We knew it was a game where we knew we would be able to score easily. At the same time, we knew they were going to try to score easily if they make their shots. A team like that, you’re not going to be able to stop them from making shots all 40 minutes. So they had runs to catch up. We would go up, and they would catch up. They would go up a little, and we would catch up.
Hurley: We always dictated the pace and tempo of the game and played the game on our terms just about every time we competed. With this game, how they played, their style, the press, they played at their speed.
Pelphrey: Their team was so talented that we had to figure out a way to shrink the game. As the game progressed, and it stayed tight, you knew that this was going to be a battle. For us, it was a culmination of three years. We were a devastating offensive basketball team and a devastating pressing team. We just weren’t real big. They had Hurley, Grant Hill and Laettner and on and on and on. The number of wins these guys had? They could come at you like an NBA team.
George Laettner: It was so intense, back and forth, back and forth. And it just seemed to build.
* * *
Laettner had a bucket inside early in the game to break Elvin Hayes’ all-time NCAA Tournament scoring record. Duke fell behind and needed a 15-2 run to take the lead. Thomas Hill and Hurley made three-pointers. Grant Hill was asserting himself offensively, but Duke had only a 50-45 lead at halftime. Coach K stood before his players at intermission and said …
* * *
Thomas Hill: I don’t remember. I don’t (laughs).
Hurley: I have no recollection.
Grant Hill: Hmmm. You know, I really don’t remember.
Laettner: You don’t remember everything your coach said 25 years later, but I remember the message, or the message I was receiving. We knew we were going to be in a fight. At halftime, that was the message. We knew it could happen. We knew that they had the potential to hit shots and beat us. We’re in a dogfight.
* * *
Midway through the second half, while going up for a rebound, Laettner was pushed to the floor under the basket by Kentucky swingman Deron Feldhaus. When he looked up, Timberlake was standing over him. Laettner, believing Timberlake was the player who pushed him, made a mental note.
With 8:06 remaining in regulation, Timberlake landed under the basket and was called for a blocking foul on Laettner. Rather than step over him, Laettner stepped on Timberlake with his right foot. He was issued a technical foul but was allowed to stay in the game.
CBS analyst Len Elmore, calling the action with Lundquist, wasn’t sure what to believe. “It was a pretty darned nasty situation,” Elmore said during the broadcast. “I don’t know he did it on purpose or not.” Said Lundquist: “Yeah, he did. Pretty obvious.”
* * *
Hurley: I thought it was stupid. I knew that we didn’t need it. I thought it was disrespectful and really didn’t have a place in that game. And I knew it was going to be hurtful to what we were trying to do. And it was something he could control. He shouldn’t have done it.
Thomas Hill: That’s Laett. I could see that happening. He didn’t even step on him hard. He laid off. If he really wanted to hurt him, he could have smashed his chest in – if he really wanted to hurt him. I know it was, “You cheap-shotted me, and here’s one back.” And he got caught.
Grant Hill: It was stupid because it could have cost him the ability to play, so it could have cost us. It’s easy to have the benefit of perspective. Back then, it was a different game. It was more physical. That was pretty blatant, but things like that happened. Far worse had happened. I understand the level of respect, so on and so forth, but at the time I just thought, “That’s Laett.” I didn’t think it was the end of the world.
Pelphrey: It wasn’t that big of a deal. When I started playing, guys would fight and push and even throw punches without getting thrown out of the game. It wasn’t that big of a deal. I don’t spend too much time on it. The game wouldn’t have been the game without him. I really don’t spend much time thinking about that.
Taylor: That was so freaking Christian that it was unbelievable. If you were playing football with him, and you tackled him, he made sure when he got up that he put his hand into your chest and pushed you to the ground as he was getting up. I didn’t think he was going to get thrown out, but I knew he was getting T’d up. I was like, “You’re stupid. You just cost Duke everything or yourself everything.” It wasn’t out of character for him to do something stupid like that. It was always a challenge with him. Always.
Torgalski: I just shook my head. I was like, “Oh, Christian, what are you doing? Not now.” There were plenty of times in high school, or driving in the car or something, where you’re like, “What are you doing? Come on.” That was just Christian. Once you know him, you know he doesn’t mean it like that, but that’s why there’s a misperception about him. It was just him.
Timberlake: It looked worse than what it was. By the time my mind processed it, he was doing something that was not within their game plan and, therefore, giving us an advantage. I was just fortunate to be on the court. He did stop short. It wasn’t like he was trying to hurt me or anything. He stepped on me in frustration. It wasn’t like I got a punch on the chin. It was soft. It wasn’t like he was hurting me. It wasn’t enough to get into a brawl, but it was enough for a technical.
Lundquist: I thought he should have been thrown out of the game. He knows I think that. … He was angry. I did think that it merited disqualification. He obviously would disagree with my opinion.
Ryan: I was rooting for Duke in my head, so I kind of gave him a pass on it. He was lucky to get away with that one, let’s be honest.
Bonnie Laettner: I didn’t see it happen. I had my eyes shut for the whole last quarter of the game. I don’t go to sporting events with my grandchildren anymore because I can’t take it. When Christian started at Duke, I had brown hair. Four Final Fours later, and I had white hair.
George Laettner: I saw Christian get pushed. When he stepped on Timberlake, I thought he was getting the kid who pushed up. That’s what I first thought, too. I was like, “Oh my God, what did he do now?” The refs were talking, and you were on the edge of your seat. But they let it go on.
Laettner: Was it a mistake? Yeah, it was a mistake. And it was stupid. And it could have cost us. The answer is a little bit of everything what Bobby and Thomas and Grant said. It was stupid, and it could have cost us. And it was a little bit of what the Kentucky players said, that it was no big deal. Stuff like that happens all the time in practice. … Still, knowing that I had a cheap shot on me the play before, it was still the wrong thing to do. Coach K never said, “Hey, if you get a cheap shot or someone smacks the heck out of you, go get him back.” He would say, “Go on to the next play.” You have to turn your cheek. It was a mistake by me on many levels. I could have been kicked out. Luckily, I wasn’t.
* * *
Duke built an 80-69 lead before Kentucky took off on a 15-5 run to draw within a point going into the final 4½ minutes. For the remainder of the game, the two teams were within one possession. Duke and Kentucky traded one big basket after another. A great game was turning into a classic.
* * *
Grant Hill: We had that game under control. We started farting around. We got a little bored. We let them back in the game. It shouldn’t have got to that point. It’s not to be disrespectful to Kentucky. They played great.
Hurley: You got a feel for the guts of the Kentucky team. Their will was very strong. Every time we made a run, they had a response. They wouldn’t go away, and that made it special going down the stretch. It was the desire to win that both teams had that made it special.
Pelphrey: Both teams were letting it rip. Duke was playing at a high level. Everybody was in the moment, in the zone. Nobody was fazed by what the other team was doing. You could have been distracted and discouraged, particularly with what was happening with Laettner, but it would have taken away from us.
Laettner: You’re not saying, “This is an unbelievable game” during the game while you’re playing. You’re saying, “God, dang, this is tough. We have to keep fighting and hope that they miss some shots, and hope that we make.”
Lundquist: No one knew when it started that it was going to turn into a classic, but it certainly was. We had a sense of the degree of excellence we were seeing because it was just back and forth the last 10 minutes.
Ryan: In that stretch, I was like, “Holy (crap), this is phenomenal.” I don’t remember the halftime score. I don’t remember a lot of things. But I do remember that stretch and thinking, “This is something very special.”
Timberlake: At no point in time did I think, “Wow, I’m going to see this on Instant Classics.” I’m 44 now, so it’s hard to think back. I’m thinking about the images and what was going on. Seeing the bench explode when one play was made after another, one phenomenal shot after another, it really was one that we thought, “This is a great game.” But in our minds, we were going to win. It was a matter of how we were going to win.
Taylor: We didn’t look at the game like that. We had a vested interest in him. To us, it was like watching a Bills game or a Sabres game. I mean, this was our boy. This was our kid. It didn’t matter if he had “Duke” on his chest or “Canisius” on his chest. Duke was an afterthought. It was, “Our boy is in this game,” and that’s what led us to the game.
* * *
Thomas Hill made Duke’s final basket in regulation while Feldhaus converted for Kentucky. They were big shots at the time, but they were quickly reduced to footnotes. Hurley missed an off-balance 12-foot jumper with three seconds left. Jamal Mashburn’s desperation heave was tipped and landed out of bounds.
Duke 93, Kentucky 93. End of regulation.
Pelphrey buried a three to start overtime. Hurley missed from long distance, regained possession and buried a three. Pelphrey scored a bucket inside. Laettner made two free throws – 98-98 with 1:52 remaining – before Laettner offered a peek into what was coming.
Duke had an out-of-bounds play with little time left on the shot clock when Laettner took a pass near the elbow. He faked right, turned over his left shoulder, double-pumped and made a miraculous shot off the glass for a 100-98 lead with 32 seconds remaining.
It was like he couldn’t miss. In fact, he didn’t miss. At that point he was 9 for 9 from the floor, 8 for 8 from the foul line and had 27 points.
* * *
Hurley: When he made that, I was like, “Wow. This guy is making everything.”
Pelphrey: We were aware that this guy was phenomenal. You couldn’t give him a shot. He wasn’t missing any free throws. He wasn’t missing anything. A couple of shots down the stretch, you knew this guy was having some night. He made a couple free throws and we were like, “Damn, just give us one of these.”
Grant Hill: He didn’t have a lot of moves (laughing). I knew Christian liked to turn over his left shoulder, especially on his turnaround jump shot. It foreshadowed what was to come. I didn’t know in the heat of battle that he had a perfect game from the field and was perfect from the free-throw line. I just knew he was playing well.
Laettner: I had no idea. I didn’t know that I was doing that well or scoring a lot of points because you’re always making little mistakes out there, or big mistakes. You’re not saying to yourself, “I’m having a perfect game” because you’re never having a perfect game. It’s impossible. I shot perfectly that day. I didn’t realize it, and it’s a good thing that nobody brought it to my attention.
* * *
Mashburn converted a three-point play to give Kentucky a 101-100 lead with 19 seconds remaining. Laettner was fouled and calmly converted both free throws to give Duke a 102-101 advantage with 14 seconds left. He had made 19 straight foul shots in the tournament at that point, including all 10 in this game.
Kentucky called timeout with 7.8 seconds remaining. Sean Woods took the ball near the left wing and led Hurley into a screen before heading for the lane. Laettner converged while Woods took a running shot that soared over Laettner, banked off the glass and fell through the hoop with 2.5 seconds remaining to give Kentucky a 103-102 lead.
Laettner called timeout with 2.1 seconds left, hardly enough time for Duke to travel the full length of the court. The game appeared over.
* * *
Hurley: You know from playing a lot of basketball when someone hits a straight-in bank shot that it’s not meant to happen that way. Guys don’t do that by design. With the amount of time on the clock, the circumstances, your first instinct is to say, “It’s not meant to be.” You throw in all the adversity, and the up-and-down way the game was being played, with the fatigue, mental and physical, to get that type of blow delivered, I thought it was over for us.
Pelphrey: He had to throw the ball higher. That’s why it had to be banked. It was so it wasn’t blocked. It was somebody making an extra-effort play. Whatever needed to be done, and a little bit more, that’s what happened. Coach was like, “Whoever had the ball last was going to win.” Boy, was he right. When Sean hit the shot, I was like, “Great – for him. And we’re going to get a ring.”
George Laettner: I thought Kentucky got lucky. It was kind of a freak shot over Christian, and it went in. But Duke had enough coaching and game management to call time. I thought, with 2½ seconds left, there was plenty of time.
Thomas Hill: As soon as that shot went in, I blanked out for a second. I went completely blank.
Lundquist: I thought it was over. I thought it was over. Not many times you see somebody score with 2.1 second left on the clock, and you have to go the full distance of the court.
Grant Hill: I’ve joked that I was getting ready for Beach Week and all that. But the way we were conditioned to think was that we had a chance until the buzzer sounds. For that moment, it was more disbelief and trying to digest what happened.
Ryan: It was the greatest college basketball game I had ever seen, and it was capped off by a dramatic ending. It was certainly in my Top 3-5 regardless of whether Kentucky held on to win that game. I would have considered, after the Woods shot, that it was the best game I had ever seen.
Timberlake: He takes it and you’re thinking, “No, no, no – YES!” It was a phenomenal shot. If he hits that, it’s destiny, right? You see tough shot after tough shot. You’re thinking the cards have to be in our favor.
Laettner: No, no, no, no, no, because the game’s not over. Even though he didn’t call “bank,” it counted. We did a really good job calling timeout. I’m feeling like we had a chance. Over the years, we’ve learned that Bobby and Grant were thinking, “We’ll be at Myrtle Beach in a few days.” Coach K did a magnificent job once we got to him.
Taylor: Absolutely, I thought it was over. And it was the longest commercial break in the history of mankind. They called timeout and went to a commercial. The three of us are standing in Kwilos’ living room. Brett Borman was basically doing a eulogy on Christian and Duke. “He’s been to three Final Fours and won a national championship. It had to end someday.” It seemed like it was forever. I can just remember: not a sound. Not a sound. When that went in from Woods, it was like, “Are you (expletive) kidding me?”
* * *
Every day in practice, Duke ran a drill that required long passes to teammates for layups. Grant Hill threw the best deep ball. Duke lost a game earlier in the season to Wake Forest after Hill attempted a long baseball pass to Laettner along the sideline. It went off his hands and out of bounds in the final seconds.
Krzyzewski pulled his players together and first asked Hill if he could make the pass. “Yes,” he said. He asked Laettner if he could execute the play. “Yes,” he said. Coach K continued doing what he does better than anyone: He instilled belief in his players that they would win the game.
* * *
Thomas Hill: Coach said, “Here’s the situation: We’re going to win.” He started laughing, like he had a little laugh.
Hurley: The best thing he did in that huddle was convince us that it wasn’t over. We had practiced these types of play before, that we were going to make the play. He was just getting us believing that we were going to win.
Grant Hill: Coach recognized that I could deliver that pass. Now, I didn’t practice in the game with two seconds left. He asked me if I could make that pass because he saw me throwing it. We did that every day. It was part of our warmup.
Laettner: The first thing he did was he said, “Somehow, some way, we’re going to do this. We’re going to win this.” In my mind, I’m thinking, “That’s right.” It was affirmation. I felt the same way he did. Even if he was trying to brainwash us, he had one person feeling the same way – and that was me. Immediately, in my heart, I was like, “Yeah, OK. We do have a chance.” It was very important.
* * *
Kentucky players were trying to contain themselves in the huddle after Woods made his shot. Pitino knew Laettner would be Duke’s first option and wanted two players guarding him. One was the 6-foot-7 Feldhaus. Pelphrey stood near Laettner while serving as a free safety to intercept or tip any pass.
Putting two players on Laettner meant not guarding the in-bounds pass, giving Grant Hill freedom to throw the deep ball. It was a gamble. Before breaking the huddle, Pittino reminded his players not to foul Laettner.
* * *
Pelphrey: They have to go the length of the floor. They had four guys. We had five. If you put a guy on the ball, and he’s allowed to run the baseline, you still may not be in front of him. Therefore, when the ball is thrown, their biggest guy is 6-foot-11, and your biggest guy is 6-foot-7, it turns into football. The tallest guy can get it. I completely agreed with Coach. Playing the numbers, five against four, that’s what Las Vegas does every single day. That’s why you see all those buildings out there.
Timberlake: You have to remember that this was a trusted leader, a Hall of Fame coach. He led us from nothing to something. The trust was there. He could have told us to sit in the stands to confuse him, and we would have listened.
Laettner: Yes, I did take note of it. I said, “Well, I’ve got a lot of points up there. They better get two guys on me.” It was a 50-50 call for the coach. I don’t think it’s wrong or right to put a guy on the passer. Gosh, if you have a guy who is known to make shots, and who has 29 points on the board, there’s times I would put two guys on him, too.
Lundquist: I am still stunned that Rick chose to not guard the ball. Grant could run the baseline, but he didn’t need to. I’ve read that Rick said in the huddle, “For heaven’s sake, don’t foul him.” It was one reason John and (Feldhaus) backed off a little bit. They weren’t very aggressive in defending that pass.
Ryan: I can’t honestly say that I appreciated, at the time, that Rick didn’t guard the in-bounds pass. People would have to prove to me that they took note of that and thought it was a big problem. I’m not going to sit here and make a big fuss about Rick not doing that. I know it’s taken on a life of its own.
Thomas Hill: I knew the play wasn’t coming to me. There was no way I was touching the ball. I was the fifth option, right (laughing). I was trying to figure it out. Am I a decoy? I knew I wasn’t going to touch the ball. I had no thoughts of that, literally, no way. There was no pressure on me.
* * *
Grant Hill reached back and threw a 75-foot pass toward Laettner, who was standing at the opposite foul line. Feldhaus and Pelphrey converged on the pass but made sure not to foul Laettner. With his back to the basket, Laettner faked right to create space from Feldhaus. Pelphrey backed off. Laettner dribbled, turned and had a clear look at the basket while the shorter Feldhaus attempted to get a hand in his face.
And 2.1 seconds turned into an eternity.
* * *
Hurley: I was amazed that we were able to execute, to get the ball that close to the basket, without using any time. There was the difficulty in doing that alone. That was the first surprise. It gave you hope when he caught the ball. I knew it was possible. My only issue was, “Did he use too much time?” He looked very poised when he caught it, almost too relaxed. But he had the clock in his head.
Pelphrey: Where’s the horn? Where’s the horn? He catches it. He showed one way, he took a dribble and he spun around. Where … Is … The … Clock?
Grant Hill: He caught it and took a dribble. My first reaction was, “No. Just turn and shoot it.”
George Laettner: Everybody else, including me, was saying, “What is he doing dribbling the ball?” He caught it clean, and I was like, “What is he doing?” But as soon as Christian shot the ball, I knew it was in because he got the ball up. And it was dead-center.
Bonnie Laettner: My eyes were closed.
Ryan: It was on my end of the court. I was on the foul line extended. The first thing was the awareness of the time – he fakes one way, comes back the other way, calmly dribbles, not the remotest hurry. I was struck by the deliberate nature of what he was doing and how calm and composed he was.
Laettner: I looked up: 2.1 seconds. I was saying to myself: I don’t have to rush. I have a second to take a dribble if I want. I might catch the ball in a way where I don’t have to dribble. The ball gets in my hands, my feet land on the ground, and I go into my main shake move. … It was a combination of everything – goofing around with your brother in the driveway, doing it on a higher level with your high school coach. You do it before you go in for the night and take your shower. “Three-two-one” and you take the shot. If you miss it, you do it again.
* * *
Laettner released the shot from just inside the three-point line with 0.3 seconds remaining. Kentucky’s decision on defense left it defenseless when the ball left his hand. Feldhaus had no chance of blocking his shot and looked over his left shoulder to see the result. Pelphrey was a spectator like everybody else in the building.
* * *
Thomas Hill: I was in front of our bench. I’m looking at the entire play. I’m looking at his move. I’m looking at him take a dribble, shake right-left, great arc on the ball. I’m like, “This ball is going in. This is going in.”
Hurley: I was right behind him as he released the ball, and I was watching it. I knew if he got it off before the buzzer sounded that the shot was going to be good.
Grant Hill: The time that it left his hand and went in the basket felt longer than the time it took me to throw the ball to him. It was like the scene in “The Natural” with Robert Redford hitting the lights. It was quiet. It was right on line. When it was in the air, I thought, “It’s all good.”
Ryan: When the ball was in the air, I was like, “Oh my God, it’s got a chance.” It looked good. It looked damn good. I knew it had a chance.
Timberlake: We prided ourselves on getting deflections and being active. I was surprised that we didn’t get a hand on it or really go after it like I thought we should.
Pelphrey: Once he got it off, the next thing it hit was the floor. It was absolutely perfect. It was like the net never even moved. I mean, it was so quick.
Taylor: I was just staring at the TV screen. Kwilos must have said, “Shoot, Shoot!” about six times. I knew it was going in because he had done that to me in the driveway about 1,000 times. All he had to do was catch it, and it was going in.
Bonnie Laettner: You know when I saw the shot? When it was re-enacted on “Saturday Night Live” by Chris Farley.
Laettner: When I let it go, it felt real good. “Oooh, that has a chance.” But I didn’t know it was in for sure. You learn not to say, “That’s in for sure.” But when I took the shot, I was like, “Oooh, it feels good. It looks good. I hope it’s in.”
* * *
Laettner backpedaled a few steps, watched his shot – The Shot – fall through the net and immediately spun around with his hands in the air. The Spectrum, along with a national television audience, erupted. Thomas Hill was a picture of disbelief, emotions captured in a image that will forever remain part of Duke’s history.
* * *
Laettner: For me, there was so much excitement, such a burst of, “Yaaaay!” My hearing did go out for a minute. When I see the ball go in, and I put my hands up and started running toward Grant, then run away from him so he can’t grab me. I don’t remember hearing much. The crowd was going nuts.
Hurley: Stunned, shocked, any word you want to use. You know the situation and feel like you had lost it all, and then everything changes so fast. It was just such an amazing moment, such an exciting moment. And then you get an appreciation for how good the game was, how many plays were made in the course of the game. You’re like, “Wow, that was some game to be a part of. I can’t believe it ended this way, and that it ended in our favor.”
Pelphrey: I was like, “Hold up, hold up. That didn’t just happen. Let’s do that again because that’s not the way it was supposed to end.”
Thomas Hill: We were trying to make history. That’s when it hit me that we had a chance. I wasn’t crying. It was a facial expression that I make when unbelievable things happen. When I’m playing Monopoly, I make that face when I land on Boardwalk and Park Place. It was incredible.
Grant Hill: In my sightline, all the Duke fans were behind the basket. When the ball went through the basket, it was like a cannon went off.
George Laettner: The thing I remember after the swish was the people right behind the basket, the Duke cheerleaders and all the Duke fans. It was like an explosion.
Lundquist: That was the loudest sound that I’ve ever heard in a basketball arena. We shut up, Lenny and I did. Anyone worth his salt in a broadcasting position would do the same. You can’t say anything that would enhance that moment. You just lay out, and we did. It was quite a while before we went to a replay.
Taylor: We were like little kids. It was a three-man group hug, bouncing up and down in Kwilos’ living room. And we got in the car and drove up to O’Conner’s Pub in the Village of Angola. It was just unreal, absolutely unreal. We went up there and – (laughs) – it was what it was.
Torgalski: What a great game. Both sides, great plays, back and forth, by different people. But when it was all said and done, it was the best player at the best time making the best shot. That’s what everyone will remember. It happened so quickly but happened like it was in slow motion, if that makes sense. At that point in his career, and that game, he was already perfect, it looked like a natural play. He made it a basketball play. It was a post move at the foul line. He made the shot, something he’s done a thousand times. In his mind, it’s like, “The game’s over. Let’s celebrate.”
Timberlake: It was a roller-coaster with all the highs and lows. We were just on a high like, “We are in a position to win this thing” and then it was such a low. I remember my hands going up on the air in jubilation to going down and thinking, “What just happened?” We just lost. I looked at their bench, and it was the opposite, from hands down to hands up in celebration.
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For a brief moment, and many more thinking back 25 years later, Christian Laettner stood alone, arms in the air, a picture of triumph.
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Laettner: If you have a movie or a song, that gives you chills up the back of your neck or down your arm or goose bumps, and you get that warm feeling for 10 seconds, it’s almost like you’re so happy that you want to have tears of joy, that moment on the court, it was that times 100. And when it’s brought up now, it’s still that times five. It’s an explosion of adrenaline, joy and happiness. I still get chills.
The Shot: Where are they now?
Christian Laettner, Duke forward. Thirteen years in NBA, Olympic gold medalist, businessman and head of Christian Laettner Basketball Academy. Resides in Jacksonville, Fla.
Bobby Hurley, Duke point guard. Five years in NBA. Former head coach at University at Buffalo, current coach Arizona State.
Grant Hill, Duke swingman. Eighteen years in NBA. Current analyst for CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting.
Thomas Hill, Duke shooting guard. Physical education teacher, basketball coach, tennis coach, Avenues World School, New York City.
John Pelphrey, Kentucky captain. Assistant coach, University of Alabama.
Aminu Timberlake, Kentucky reserve. Account executive, SalesForce, Atlanta.
Verne Lundquist, play-by-play man, CBS Sports.
Bob Ryan, retired Boston Globe columnist. On-air contributor, ESPN.
George Laettner, retired printer, The Buffalo News. Resides in Angola.
Bonnie Laettner, retired teacher, Lake Shore Central Schools. Resides in Angola.
Rick Torgalski, high school teammate of Laettner at Nichols School, former Duke baseball player. East Region sales director, JTM Foods, Atlanta.
Story topics: Aminu Timberlake/ Bob Ryan/ Bobby Hurley/ Christian Laettner/ Duke basketball/ Final Four/ Grant Hill/ John Pelphrey/ Kentucky basketball/ Len Elmore/ Mike Krzyzewski/ NCAA Tournament/ nichols school/ Rick Pitino/ Rick Torgalski/ the Spectrum/ Thomas Hill/ Verne Lundquist