The story of the classic 1992 basketball contest told in ESPN senior columnist Gene Wojciechowski’s new book, “The Last Great Game,” truly begins about four years earlier. That’s when Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski recruited Christian Laettner, the driving force in this book and in Duke’s transformation from contender to champion.
Wojciechowski’s method is to flip back and forth between Duke and the University of Kentucky in the late 1980s and early ’90s. But although the two schools share the stage, ultimately “The Last Great Game” is about Laettner’s shot and, more than that, about the Blue Devils player himself, who drove his teammates to distraction — and to excellence.
By the middle of his freshman year, Laettner had earned a starting role, and he helped the team reach the Final Four. As was Duke’s custom, Laettner earned his playing time. So it shocked him as a sophomore to hear the coach tell freshman point guard Bobby Hurley, “This is your team.” At that moment, Wojciechowski writes, “Laettner decided to make the basketball life of Duke’s new point guard a daily hell. During a pickup basketball game, for instance, Laettner mocked Hurley, who responded by throwing the ball in Laettner’s face.