Christian Laettner is one of the most accomplished college basketball players in the history of the sport. He made the Final Four in all four years of college and played in the national championship game three consecutive years. He was a consensus National Player of the Year and two-time All-American, becoming the face of one of the most storied men's basketball programs.
Here's everything you need to know about Christian Laettner's college career at Duke.
Christian Laettner college basketball stats, vitals
Weight: 235 pounds
Years active: 1988-92
NCAA tournament record: 21-2
Career averages: 16.6 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game, 57.4% field goal shooting
What was Christian Laettner's record in college?
In four years with Christian Laettner, Duke went 123-26, including a 43-15 mark in ACC play. In Laettner's senior year, the Blue Devils went 34-2 and 14-2 in conference play.
How many national championships did Christian Laettner win in college?
Christian Laettner won two national championships in college as he led Duke to back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992. The Blue Devils lost in the Final Four and in the national championship game in Laettner's freshman and sophomore years, respectively.
What was Christian Laettner's game like?
Laettner's knack for hitting clutch shots started long before he arrived in Durham. A story published in The Tampa Tribune in December 1987 noted how Laettner's Nichols School team competed in the Kingdom of the Sun Holiday Classic in Ocala, Florida, and Laettner scored 39 points, capped off by a jumper at the buzzer that give his team a 70-69 win.
Laettner, of course, went on to hit famous NCAA tournament buzzer-beaters against UConn and Kentucky, the latter later named the best moment in NCAA tournament history during the 75 Years of March Madness celebration.
What were some of Christian Laettner's best games?
In 23 NCAA tournament games — first off just, think about that; Laettner played in 23 out of a maximum 24 possible tournament games in college — Laettner scored in double figures 20 times.
The game in which he really burst onto the national scene was in the Elite Eight his freshman year. Laettner scored a then-career-high 24 points on 9-of-10 shooting, while leading Duke in rebounding with nine boards, plus dishing out four assists, in an NCAA tournament win against No. 1 seed Georgetown and standout center Alonzo Mourning. Mourning had 11 points and five rebounds.
As a sophomore, Laettner had 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 8-of-8 free throw shooting, plus 14 rebounds against UCLA in the Sweet 16. In the Final Four, he went for 19 and 14 against Arkansas.
Laettner scored at least 18 points in all six of Duke's NCAA tournament games in 1991, including 28 against UNLV in the Final Four. He finished with 125 points for the entire tournament.
Then there's the Kentucky game, when Laettner's iconic jumper lifted the Blue Devils past the Wildcats 104-103 in overtime and into the Final Four. He scored 31 points in the game — the most of his NCAA tournament career — on 10-of-10 shooting from the field and 10-of-10 free-throw shooting. He was perfect. Laettner also had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
You can watch the legendary ending of the 1992 Duke-Kentucky game below.
What awards did Christian Laettner win in college?
Here are some of the awards Christian Laettner won in college:
- 1989 East Regional Team
- 1990 East Regional Team
- 1990 East Region MVP
- 1991 ACC Athlete of the Year
- 1991 consensus Second Team All-American
- 1991 Midwest Regional Team
- 1991 national champion
- 1991 Final Four Most Outstanding Player
- 1991 All-Tournament Team
- 1992 ACC Athlete of the Year
- 1992 ACC Player of the Year
- 1992 consensus First Team All-American
- 1992 consensus National Player of the Year
- 1992 East Regional Team
- 1992 East Regional MVP
- 1992 national champion
- 1992 All-Tournament Team
- Laettner's shot to beat Kentucky 104-103 in the 1992 Elite Eight was named the top March Madness moment of all time
- Named a top-15 player in NCAA tournament history in the 75 Years of March Madness Celebration
What records did Christian Laettner set in college and where does he rank among historical greats?
Here are some of the records Christian Laettner set in college and where he ranks in all-time statistical lists:
- A member of the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound club
- 1st in NCAA tournament history in career games played: 23 games
- 1st in the 1989 NCAA tournament in field goal percentage: 78.8 percent
- 1st in the 1991 NCAA tournament in points: 125 points
- 1st in the 1992 NCAA tournament in points: 115 points
- T-1st in the 1992 NCAA tournament in steals: 13 steals
- 2nd in NCAA tournament history in career rebounds (after 1973): 169 rebounds
- T-2nd in NCAA tournament history in free throws made in a single tournament: 49 free throws
- T-3rd in NCAA tournament history in career field goals made: 128 field goals
- T-5th in Final Four history with a two-game free throws made total: 21 free throws
- 7th in NCAA tournament history in career rebounds:
- 13th all-time in NCAA history in single-season 3-point percentage: 55.7 percent, 1992
- T-17th all-time in NCAA history in career games played: 148 games
- T-18th all-time in NCAA history in career free throws made: 713 free throws
- 25th all-time in NCAA history in scoring: 2,460 points
What did people say about Christian Laettner?
Bill Travers of the New York Daily News (March 1986): "Our Saviour Lutheran's season ended roughly and abruptly Tuesday night. Roughly, because the Bronx Falcons and the Nichols (Buffalo) Vikings were involved in one of the most physical high school games in years, a game that saw bodies flying all over the Adelphi Academy gym while the referees swallowed their whistles. Abruptly, because of a sensational sophomore named Christian Laettner. The 6-foot-10 Laettner was the dominating force that saw the upstaters win their second straight Association of Independent Schools championship with a 73-70 victory over Our Saviour. He scored 31 points (13-25 from the field), grabbed 18 rebounds and had an unbelievable 16 blocked shots."
Joe Frisaro of The Tampa Tribune (December 1987): "Imagine, a 6-foot-10 center who's a deadly shooter, has excellent athletic ability and is willing to dive all over the court for a loose ball. He dribbles behind his back and hustles more than a shopping clerk at Christmas."
Former Nichols High School coach Jim Kramer (December 1987): "Christian is being called the heir-apparent to Danny Ferry at Duke."
Larry Felser of the Buffalo News (March 1989): "His performance in Duke's victory over Georgetown Easter Sunday makes it fairly clear that Christian Laettner ... could end up ranking with Bob Lanier as the greatest basketball player ever to come out of Buffalo. Laettner's clutch play against Alonzo Mourning, the Hoya's far-more-heralded freshman, pushed him from the category of 'good play' to the category of 'major star.'"
Former president Richard Nixon, after Laettner missed a one-and-one, trailing Arizona by two, with one second left: "I know you feel badly, young man. But everything will be just fine. I know, I've won a few and lost a few myself."
Former Duke guard Phil Henderson: "He doesn't play like a freshman, but he still has that giddiness about him. Like, he'll be running down the court, clapping because we're winning, and there's like 18 minutes left in the game or something. It's great, because he still has that kind of enthusiasm."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: "We recruited him for a long time. He's too good of a player. We started toward the end of his sophomore year."
Krzyzewski: "Christian is very intelligent. He's really a basketball purist. He's a perfectionist. A lot of times this year that has hurt him because he gets angry at himself ... When he channels that energy to the next play in a positive manner, that puts him at a very high level. He's one of the best players in the that country when he does that."
Christian Laettner quotes
Laettner on his game and his areas of improvement: "I have to work on my shot all the time. I've gone to a lot of camps. I was at Five Star. The competition there is real intense. The smaller and quicker guys give me a lot of trouble. I just have to post up on them."
Laettner on missing potential game-tying free throws against Arizona in a loss: "The whole Arizona game was the turning point for me. It was an NCAA type game, a very intense game. Before that, we didn't play in many games that were very close ... I wanted to face it again, I wanted to challenge it again."
Laettner: "When Coach K grabbed me, I felt really special at that point. I would've felt special if I had made the free throw, but I'm not sure it could've been any more special."
Laettner, reflecting on watching the 1986 national championship game as a high-schooler: "They all looked at each other and they seemed to be having a lot of fun out there. I've got to check out Duke."
Laettner on picking Duke: "You want to go to the best school you can go to, and one that you think has a good chance to do well all the time."
Laettner after Duke beat UConn in the 1990 NCAA tournament: "This game was by far the most fun I've had in my whole life. It was just such a sudden thing. A second can make such a big difference. Last year, I was able to believe it because we were up by eight with 10 seconds left. This one, I just couldn't believe. You didn't know you were going to win until the buzzer went off."
What kind of prospect was Christian Laettner in high school?
Laettner was a standout high school player at Nichols School in Buffalo who was being recruited by some of the best programs in the ACC by his sophomore year. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski once told reporters that Laettner was so good, they had to get in contact with him early in the process, near the end of his sophomore year.
A story published in The Post-Star noted how a week after Syracuse was eliminated from the 1986 NCAA tournament, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was on hand watching Laettner, then a sophomore in high school. Laettner was named to the New York State High School Class C All-Tournament team after setting a tournament record with 40 rebounds in two games. Laettner's Nichols High School (Buffalo, N.Y.) team won the tournament after Laettner had 18 points and 21 rebounds in the final game.
As a junior, Laettner averaged 21.4 points and 17 rebounds per game. The next year he averaged 27.8 points and 17.5 rebounds per game.
He was a prep All-American and Howard Garfinkel of Five-Star Camp said Laettner was the third-best center in the his high school class. "He's going to be great," Garfinkel said.
Laettner ultimately chose Duke over North Carolina and Virginia.