Christian Laitner sat quietly at a folding table and laced up his black-and-white Nike basketball shoes while the kids checked into their four-day camp at Nichols School.
Nearby, Queniece McNeil gave her name to the Nicholls administrator who was in charge of the check-in table at the Christian Laitner Basketball Academy.
Buffalo’s sixth grader McNeil never thought he’d walk past Angola’s Laitner, who shot one of the most memorable shots in college basketball history.
“I came to camp because I wanted to get better at basketball,” McNeil said.
After graduating from Nichols College in 1988, Laettner went on to become one of college basketball’s most notable and sometimes polarizing stars at Duke. At 6-foot-11, Laitner now lives a fleeting, anonymous life, even though he’s much taller than the elementary and middle school campers he mentors, including his son Thor, who traveled with him from Florida. enjoying
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Laettner is bringing camp back to his alma mater for the first time since 2019, but his name still has a big impact on younger generations of the sport. I didn’t have to look for a school-age student who knew exactly who Lettner was on Monday morning.
Buffalo sixth grader Tyler DeGarmo: “I went to his camp when I was six and that’s how I understood who he was. I went to his camp and found out more about him.”
Grant Anderson, 6th grade student from Hamburg: “I didn’t know anything about him, but my father told me a lot about him and I was looking forward to meeting him. My dad said he played in the NBA, was six to eleven years old, and was from western New York.”
Finnegan Ryan, sixth grader in Buffalo: “I’ve seen videos of him playing. He was an excellent player.”
Canisius High School alumnus and camp instructor Shane Sarkone: “I’ve always been surrounded by basketball and I grew up in Buffalo. He’s a legend, something of a Buffalo basketball legend.”
Kids attending camp may not think they’re old enough to know who Laettner is and why he’s important to the structure of high school and college basketball in western New York. In the Elite Eight of the 1992 NCAA Tournament, Laettner hit a turnaround jumper that helped Duke defeat Kentucky at the buzzer. That year, Duke won its second national championship.
Laitner still gets a little excited when he gets an award, but not so much when his coach calls him to congratulate his son, or when he sees grade-schoolers absorb the skills he taught at camps like Nichols Camp. no excitement.
“Now that I am 54 years old and I have heard the term for 30 years and someone said it, it might seem arrogant and I don’t want to downplay its importance…but you are kind of used to it. ‘, Laitner said quietly on Tuesday, the second day of camp.
“It’s all about perspective and context. In every way, the shape and shape of life. When I was 18 and someone said, ‘I saw it on TV!’ would react differently. Even though he doesn’t seem grateful now, he is still grateful. But the older I get, the more I realize what really matters in life. ”
As he stepped onto the eponymous court in the lower level of the Scully Athletic Center, Laitner became an instructor and disciplinarian of sorts. He reprimanded campers for speaking during his instruction, and was sometimes not very kind to the criticism.
His coaching style is inherited from his parents. His mother, Bonnie, was her third-grade teacher and treated her students with resolute yet fairness, instilling both discipline and consideration. His father, George, was a printer for the Buffalo News Company and coached Laitner in youth sports. Laitner said that anyone who met his father had a crush on him but saw how strict his father was with the children he mentored.
“But maybe 30 times after something like this, or during practice, I go home and say to myself, ‘Man, I was too stiff,'” Laitner said. . “And I realized that I needed to be resolute, but that’s not to look like a mean, crocheted old human. You have to consciously think about it and be aware of it.”
He nominated players who had properly executed ball-handling and footwork exercises. He urged campers to go home and practice the exercises taught in the morning. He even crouched in a camper in gray and green Nichols athletic pants.
“Are you going to Nichols?” Rettner asked Jackson Coppola, who will be entering Nichols College this year as a sixth grader.
He nodded in response. “What a great child.”
Coppola didn’t blink when asked if he knew who Laettner was.
“He’s the greatest NCAA player ever,” declared Orchard Park resident Coppola.
Cameron Lewis, Nichols’ sixth all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball, returns to Buffalo to work at Laitner’s camp. While Lewis is pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Howard University in Washington, D.C., he finds himself learning from Lettner’s patient but rigorous approach to coaching young players.
Matt Bradshaw played against Leitner’s team when Lewiston Porter played Nichols in the Niagara Frontier League in the mid-1980s.
Bradshaw is currently gearing up for his third season as coach of the Nichols men’s basketball team, looking at Laitner through the lens of high school basketball in western New York. It’s safe to include Laitner in a group of prep greats that include Bennett’s Bob Lanier, Park School’s Jordan Nuwolla, Riverside’s Cliff Robinson and McKinley’s Dorothy Jones.
“Christian could hit threes and was an incredible passer. That was when he was in ninth or tenth grade,” Bradshaw said. “He was the first big man to actually go out of the paint.”
Cercone first attended Leitner’s camp in 2015 and is working with Leitner for the first time.
“Now that he’s a little older, it’s great to be able to pick his brain,” Cercone said. “He knows a lot about basketball.
“When someone in your community who has reached the highest level comes back and helps you, it inspires a lot of people. can be considered. It doesn’t even have to be basketball. I’m just watching someone who was so dominant return the favor. ”
But DeGarmo had never seen The Shot. He watched a video of Lettner’s final jumper in 1992 on Lettner’s cell phone and realized the enormity of how the entire match could change in just over two seconds. The young shooter in the video quietly enters Nichols Gymnasium, where his name is among the all-time top scorers in the men’s basketball program.
Again, a moment of relative anonymity in a busy basketball environment.
Less than 45 minutes into camp, Laettner was running, skipping and crossing with the players through a series of footwork drills. His energy isn’t the same as when he was younger, he admits, but he knows the importance of involvement.
He pointed to Mr. McNeil, who had not been able to identify Mr. Laitner just two hours earlier.
“She’s really good at skipping backwards,” Laitner said in a room of more than 50 basketball players. “Show me, honey, go! Exactly.”
McNeill backpedaled down the length of the court with a little more effort. She had just been lauded by one of West New York’s finest, an American Olympian and NBA veteran.
“I have a kid we worked with in Jacksonville named Sean. He was 13,” Ms. Lettner said. “He wasn’t that great, but now he’s 16. Now he does things on the court and it’s like, ‘Wait, that’s what I told him.'” You It is very rewarding every time I see my child succeed in doing exactly what I taught. It’s like, “I taught you that!” It’s really unbelievable.
“This situation is exactly the same.”