Duke 91 & 92: Back to Back
Grant Hill and Christian Laettner discuss their Duke careers.
Former Duke standouts, and two-time National Champions Christian Laettner and Grant Hill are now bringing their story of dominance and glory to the forefront. Laettner and Hill teamed up with Turner Sports to produce the documentary, “Duke 91 & 92: Back to Back” which will premiere on truTV on Selection Sunday. The hour-long documentary will take a look at the back-to-back-championship teams that caused quite the stir across the country. The film will highlight Duke’s upset win over the undefeated UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in the ’91 Final Four, Laettner’s now immortal buzzer-beating jumper that beat Kentucky in ’92, their repeat National Championship game against the Fab Five, and the 20-year reunion of the team at Cameron Indoor.—Ed.
by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
They completed one of the greatest runs in college basketball history. They took part in some of the greatest games the sport has ever seen. They were led by two of the greatest players to ever grace the college basketball scene, and one of the best coaches of all time. Yet, they remain one of the most unheralded and unrecognized teams of their era, falling to the wayside of squads like the Fab Five Michigan teams and the high-powered UNLV Runnin’ Rebels of the early ‘90s.
The teams I am talking about, of course, are the ’90-91, and ’91-92 Duke Blue Devils who won, not one, but two straight National Championships.
It makes sense that a team that dominated college hoops 20 years ago would get lost in the shuffle. Duke has always done things the “right way.” They never find themselves in the middle of scandals, they recruit kids who stick around for four years and stay out of trouble, and they play fundamentally sound, “boring” basketball. They didn’t make the same waves as UNLV and aren’t one of the first teams people talk about when the “most memorable” conversation comes up, like their Fab Five counterparts. All they did was win—a lot.
But, many forget that the ’90-91 and ’91-92 Duke teams were some of the most dominant, hard-nosed and winningest teams over the last two decades. The Fab Five won a total of zero National Championships, while UNLV took one back to the Strip, albeit at the expense of the Blue Devils. But two in a row? At a time when the play in college hoops was at its most competitive? That’s more impressive than baggy shorts, bald heads and high-scoring offenses.
The championship Blue Devils were a direct extension of Coach K; they were a tough, highly competitive team that was able to live up to Coach K’s lofty demands and expectations. “I always say my favorite times were in the locker room when Coach K was really putting the screws to us,” says Laettner. “I loved it when he locked the locker room door and there was no media around and he’s in there breaking stuff and cursing us out and really making us better. Those were my favorite times… Our level of play always rose exponentially after one of those meetings… That was the best thing about Duke, and the best thing about playing for Coach K.”
There is an idea, a generalization if you will, that players who suit up for Coach K are soft. That they shy away from contact and physical play; but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. “People have a misconception of Duke that’s all wrong,” begins Hill. “There’s a certain toughness you have to have if you play there, and that stems from Coach. Coach is tough, man… He demanded that you not take the shortcuts, he demanded that you sacrifice your body for the team. There’s been a lot of players who come through Duke, who had all the talent, but it didn’t work and they had to transfer because they weren’t cut out for it.”
In Laettner, Duke had, perhaps, the toughest dude in the country. He had no problem bullying and picking on players and wasn’t scared to mix it up with both opponents and even his own teammates. “My first five minutes at Duke,” recalls Laettner, “Danny Ferry said, ‘Let’s go play one-on-one,’ and the first play he spun around and put his elbow right into my teeth. So I thought that’s what it was all about. The next year, I did the same thing to Bobby Hurley and the year after that I did the same thing to Grant.”