Laettner shines in role as villain

By Les Johns

Twenty years ago, Christian Laettner brought Big Blue Nation to tears. Monday night at Rupp Arena, Laettner earned lusty boos, uproarious laughter and ultimately cheers from the crowd in his role of head coach for the Villains, who defeated the Big Blue All-Stars 152-149.

During the pre-game introductions, the Rupp crowd showed its disdain for the likes of North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough and Louisville’s Terrance Williams, but it saved its loudest boos for the man who broke hearts 20 years ago.

“I had butterflies before I walked out the first time,” Laettner said, “but it wasn’t as vicious as I thought it would be.”

Laettner embraced his role as the lead villain at the event.  “There’s nothing wrong with booing, yelling and cursing someone every once in awhile,” Laettner said, “and if I happen to be that person to let them vent, then that’s perfectly fine.”

Laettner turned the boos into laughter late in the evening after taking some advice from some fans. When some moisture on the court had to be cleaned up, a few fans heckled Laettner, suggesting that he clean up the Rupp floor. A few minutes later, he decided he would do precisely that.

With just a few minutes remaining in the charity exhibition game, another wet spot was conveniently located on the playing surface, and Laettner decided to get on all fours and clean up the mess.  Laettner took a white towel to the Rupp Arena floor for a couple of minutes.The sight of Laettner on his knees cleaning the Rupp Arena floor brought out the laughter — and the cameras.

“Hopefully they’re Facebooking it and Twittering it and all that stuff,” Laettner said of the self-deprecating moment.

It wasn’t but a couple of minutes later that Laettner sent the Rupp Crowd roaring with a non-so-subtly choreographed double-technical-foul ejection.  As Laettner left the Rupp Arena floor, he left with the fans on their feet.  Some fans still jeered him — many others cheered.

When asked about his seeing “the shot” from 1992 that eliminated UK and propelled Duke to the National Title repeatedly, Laettner said, “I feel great. I get tickled inside and I can’t believe it’s such a part of our sports culture.”

“I don’t need the Kentucky fan to say ‘I love him’ or ‘I hate him,’ I just was them to say ‘I respect the game he played against us that night – it was a great game,’” Laettner said, “that’s all.”