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The Players' Player A poll of his peers found that Duke's Shane Battier, who's almost too good to be true, is their favorite for player of the year

Nov. 20, 2000
Nov. 20, 2000

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Nov. 20, 2000

College Basketball 2000-2001

The Players' Player A poll of his peers found that Duke's Shane Battier, who's almost too good to be true, is their favorite for player of the year

At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 1993, Shane Battier, then
14, began writing on an index card 10 goals he wanted to
accomplish in the next year. Adopting an idea from a
motivational speaker he'd heard at a summer basketball camp,
Shane pinned the card to the wall next to his bed in his
family's house in Birmingham, Mich., so that it was the first
thing he would see every morning and the last thing he would see
at night. His goals ranged from building a giant city out of
Legos to saving a human life. He also aspired to start as a
ninth grader on the varsity at Detroit Country Day School. When
he was named to the starting five the following fall, he went
home, stared at the card and said, "Wow, this really works!"

This is an article from the Nov. 20, 2000 issue

On every New Year's Eve since, Battier, now a senior forward at
Duke, has filled out a new card, recycling some of his unachieved
goals and replacing those attained with fresh ones. In a good
year he knocks off seven out of 10 goals. These days he keeps the
card on the desk in his campus apartment at Duke, and among his
goals are to win his first national championship, become a
first-team All-America and an Academic All-America, and earn a
national player of the year award. He didn't attain any of these
in 2000, so they'll be back on the list for 2001.

Battier's goal cards provide much needed insight into a
personality that even he described, in filling out a Duke sports
information department questionnaire, as "Complex and
pseudo-intellectual yet laid-back and simple." Welcome to the
enigma that is Shane Battier.

At 12 he was the No. 1 chair out of 106 trumpets in Birmingham's
annual youth orchestra concert. After earning a near perfect
score on the entrance exam, he entered Detroit Country Day in the
seventh grade, where he says he was a straight-A student (except
for one B, in American history). As an 11th grader Shane
delivered the commencement speech to the graduating seniors at
another area high school. He conducted part of his interview with
Duke admissions director Christoph Guttentag in German. The Blue
Devils' associate athletic director, Chris Kennedy, recalls
returning home after his first encounter with Battier, in 1996,
and when his wife asked him about his day, he responded, "I just
met a kid who's going to be president someday."

Battier may be every headhunter's dream job candidate, but he's
not all buttoned-down, either. For instance, he's a sucker for
late-night infomercials. His impulse purchases include a
Juice-Man, a Euro-Sealer and a George Foreman Grilling Machine,
and his teammates still tease him about the night last month when
he nearly burned down his apartment the first time he used his
mail-order bread maker. The centerpiece of his home decor is a
hideous lime-green recliner he bought for $40 at a junk shop. He
can dance the precise choreography seen on the video of 'N Sync's
It's Gonna Be Me, thanks to lessons from his 15-year-old sister,
Ashley, and he often carries in his pocket a set of gnarled fake
teeth that he'll insert just to see the reaction they get from
passersby. He even gave his girlfriend, Heidi Ufer, a senior at
Villanova, her own fake choppers. "In some ways Shane's path is
inverted," says Missouri coach Quin Snyder, a former Blue Devils
assistant. "He was an adult when he came to college, and he has
learned to be a kid."

When Battier's Duke advisers got him to sign up for a number of
economics courses that would put him on the Bill Bradley-Rhodes
scholar track, he went along at first but then changed paths.
Battier decided to major in religion because it allows him to
indulge in eclectic class discussions with a range of students
from atheists to evangelists. "Shane's a wow guy," Duke coach
Mike Krzyzewski says. "When I think back to when I was 22, I
could never have been as driven or as curious as he is."

Battier acknowledges that he strives to be different, and he
believes that stems from the time when he would have given
anything to be like every other kid. Battier's father, Ed, the
manager of a small trucking company, is black. His mother,
Sandee, a corporate secretary, is white. Each brought a child
from a previous marriage to their union, and Shane is the oldest
of the two sons and a daughter they've had together. In
Birmingham, an affluent white suburb of Detroit, Battier was the
only child of African-American descent at Harlan Elementary
School, and he still remembers his second-grade picture day,
when all the other students were handed plastic combs and he was
given a pick for his Afro. Still a minority of one at Derby
Middle School, Battier shied away from talking to girls, afraid
that they wouldn't be friends with him because he was of mixed
race. When he moved to multicultural Country Day in 1991, he
tried to fit in with both his black and white schoolmates, and
as a seventh grader he overheard a black female classmate call
him "a sellout."

"That was the first time I thought, Who am I?" Battier says. "I
didn't want to hang out with my white friends because I'd be
perceived as a sellout, and I didn't want to hang out with my
black friends because I'd be rejecting my white side. For the
first time I felt alone, and I really didn't like myself. My
saving grace was basketball, because on the court it didn't
matter what color you were."

Confidence gained from playing basketball soon emerged off the
court. "One day I had an epiphany," Battier says. "I said to
myself, Yes, I'm different, but instead of that being a bad
thing, I can have the best of two worlds. I learned to love to be
unique."

Ed and Sandee first saw Shane's precocious side when he was three
years old and asked his mom, "Do you think I would make a good
president?" Shane began reading encyclopedias for fun at five and
learned to type at eight. By the time he was 13 he was whipping
his father at Jeopardy! when they watched the show together.
While Shane isn't blessed with an extraordinary IQ, according to
his father, neither of his parents can remember ever having to
tell him to do his homework as they did their other children.
"Shane is no Albert Einstein. He's just the most dedicated,
meticulous student I've ever seen," Country Day basketball coach
Kurt Keener says.

"I think my wiring is different than that of most people,"
Battier says. "I'm driven by this almost manic desire to please
everyone around me."

Krzyzewski saw that side of Battier almost from the moment
Battier joined the Blue Devils in the fall of 1997. He was so
eager to please that he dove after balls that were well out of
bounds, prompting an incredulous Snyder to turn to Krzyzewski one
time and ask, "What's he doing?" Early in his career Battier got
so pumped up for games that he made himself sick. Several times
he walked out for the jump ball, retreated to the bench, threw up
into a towel and returned to the court.

Once the games began, he displayed a clinical, old-school style.
"Shane's game has absolutely no soul," Keener says. "He has an
ego you can fit in a thimble, and he doesn't think in creative
terms on the court because he's never been interested in making
the highlights."

In fact, Battier's calling card is drawing charges. He holds the
Duke record with 85, and last season was named the National
Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) defensive player of the
year for the second straight season (sharing the honor with
Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin). In Durham he's billed as the
Minister of Defense; the rest of the ACC sees him as Eddie
Haskell. "Most of his charges are really flops, but he's a
charmer who can do no wrong in the refs' eyes," says North
Carolina forward Kris Lang. "He gets away with murder."

Battier was slower to develop at the other end of the court.
Calling himself "an offensive hermit" who was intimidated by the
thought of failure, he averaged fewer than five shots as a
freshman. The next season, opponents often left him wide open,
daring him to shoot. His breakthrough came on the eve of a home
game against Maryland on Feb. 3, 1999, when he watched a
Discovery Channel program about the Shaolin monks of China and
their ability to focus their inner strength, or chi. The
following night Battier credited improved chi for his career-high
27 points. Still, despite starting the majority of the games,
Battier was only sixth on the team in scoring with a 9.1 average.

The summer before his junior season the 6'8", 220-pound Battier
received several phone calls from Krzyzewski, who kept asking
him, "Have you looked in the mirror and told yourself you can be
the best player in the ACC?" Though that designation ended up
going to his teammate Chris Carawell, Battier led the conference
in three-point percentage and finished third in scoring and free
throw percentage, and fifth in field goal percentage, blocks and
steals. "He's not the strongest player or the most athletic, but
he may be the smartest," says Wake Forest senior guard Robert
O'Kelley. "He's like a chess master who knows he's going to beat
you, no matter what moves you make."

Battier led Country Day to three consecutive state Class B
championships, including one his senior season, when the Yellow
Jackets were 24-0 with him in the lineup and 1-3 when he sat out
with a broken right elbow suffered while drawing a charge--in
practice. He lost only 11 games in high school and 11 during his
first three seasons at Duke. Meanwhile, he's been a part of 98
Blue Devils wins and is likely to break the men's collegiate
record of 122 victories, held by former Duke star Christian
Laettner.

Battier even aspires to be the nation's top player after the
game. He has vowed to conduct an entire season's worth of
interviews without uttering a cliche. "One of Shane's great joys
in life is shattering stereotypes," Snyder says. "He loves to
answer the tough questions, and you can almost hear him
snickering to himself when he shocks some unsuspecting reporter."

Says Battier's roommate, forward Mike Dunleavy, "When writers
talk to Shane, he creates this image of an odd guy with a million
interests. His secret is that he's a lot more normal than he
appears."

After Duke's Blue-White game on Oct. 28, Battier sat in the
locker room surrounded by notepads. He spoke about the need to
become more selfish, about how Krzyzewski was imploring him to
shoot more and about how Coach K still has to remind him not to
let his quest to be perfect get in the way of being good. After
having spent the previous two summers doing internships on Wall
Street and at a Chicago advertising firm, Battier remained in
Durham last summer to work on his ball handling and shooting off
the dribble. He will try to maintain his 3.5 average despite a
torrent of interview requests that have led to his granting more
than 100 before this season has started.

Ed and Sandee worry about Shane's burning out, and his calendar
is distressingly packed. But he did reject a personal appeal from
Bill Bradley to work on his presidential campaign and has twice
turned down invitations to speak before Congress in his role as
chairman of the NABC's Student Basketball Council. And no matter
how busy he is, he never fails to sit down for a weekly dinner
with his younger brother, Jeremy, who's now a freshman wide
receiver at Duke.

Juggling all his responsibilities as the poster boy for college
basketball isn't as simple as Battier makes it look. "Those
closest to me know my life isn't that easy," he says. "I've gone
home every night for four years and said, 'Whew, I made it
through this day. What will tomorrow be like?' One of my biggest
faults is that I'm often looking ahead to the next day rather
than watching the sunset today."

He can laugh at himself, though, and sometimes he sits in his
green chair and chuckles at the Shane Battier who arrived at Duke
four years ago in a celebrated recruiting class with Elton Brand,
William Avery and Chris Burgess, naively talking about winning
four national championships. In the spring of 1999 Brand and
Avery left early for the NBA and Burgess transferred to Utah, but
Battier looks forward to graduating with his class, and he has
many other dreams to fulfill. He hopes to be confirmed as player
of the year and wants to scratch a line through his goals of
winning an NCAA title and being drafted into the NBA.

There is nothing on Battier's index card, however, that suggests
what he might do after his basketball career. But he does relish
the times when he meets a stranger who inquires about his major
and almost inevitably follows up by asking, "Religion? What are
you going to do with that?"

Battier stares back expressionless, and says, "I'm going to rule
the world."

COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MOSHE BRAKHA COVER College Basketball Preview Issue Player's Choice Awards How they voted for their peers--the best, the dirtiest, the most underrated... Shane Battier of the Blue Devils: the players' playerCOLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MOSHE BRAKHACOLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Minister of defense In a second-round NCAA tournament win over Kansas, Battier showed why he twice has been named national defensive player of the year.COLOR PHOTO: BOB DONNAN

no recount necessary

SI asked one player from each team in the six power conferences
to vote for who he thought would be this season's player of the
year. Here's how the balloting went.

Player, School Votes

Shane Battier (Duke) 32
Troy Murphy (Notre Dame) 16
Loren Woods (Arizona) 7
Terence Morris (Maryland) 4
Jason Richardson (Michigan State) 2
Brendan Haywood (North Carolina) 2
Joseph Forte (North Carolina) 1
Richard Jefferson (Arizona) 1
Jamaal Tinsley (Iowa State) 1
Jeryl Sasser (SMU) 1

"My wiring is different than most people's," says Battier. "I'm
driven by an almost manic desire to please everyone."
"He's like a chess master who knows he's going to beat you no
matter what moves you make," says Wake's Robert O'Kelley.