Former NBA All-Star and Duke University men’s basketball great Christian Laettner addressed a small group of young basketball players Monday at Liberty County High School about the importance of working hard in following their passions.
Laettner, who led Duke to two straight national championships and was a member of the 1992 Olympic gold-medal-winning Dream Team, shared his knowledge of the game and spoke about the importance of having good grades and being passionate about the things in life you desire to do.
“Find what you are passionate about, and then go out and do it,” he said. “Devote a lot of your time and your energy to that passion. And that will make it a bit easier to get to the next level.”
Laettner told the young players in attendance that keeping up grades also will help you take one’s passion to the next level.
“Do not let your grades hold you back,” he said. “So I suggest you get a little passionate about your grades and not let that be the one thing that holds you back.”
Laettner spoke to several players from coach Simon Steele’s seventh-grade Coastal Crew Rebels’ program as well as other basketball players representing Bradwell Institute, Liberty County High School and First Presbyterian Christian Academy.
Many of the younger boys sat wide-eyed as they looked up to 6-foot-11 Laettner, who talked about the importance of working hard to attain goals. Learning how many of the boys had to cope with the loss of their basketball coach and mentor Ernie Walthour, Laettner said it was good to see others stepping up to the task helping the players reach their dreams.
“I think it is important that someone else steps into that role, and it might be Simon, but an adult mentor should step into that role because it is important for those kids to have someone like that,” he said. “Kids need a support group. In order to make it to the next level, they need to find a passion and have a support group. And that support group is your parents, your teacher, your coaches, your pastor or priest or big brother.”
Laettner said Jacksonville is the city he and his wife and three children have called home for the past 10 years. He frequently travels to Georgia while hosting his Christian Laettner Basketball Academy clinics. He said he loves combining his clinics with his other passions of skiing, hunting and fishing, but speaking to the children is what he enjoys the most.
“Simon asked me to come up and talk to his group about how to get to the next level … Anytime someone asks me to come and speak in front of a group of kids, I am going to do it … I enjoy doing it,” he said. Laettner said he treasures the time he gets to spend with up-and-coming young players. He said he recalls all the hard work he did to get to play in college and at the professional level, and when he thinks back to the pro days, there are a few memories he treasures the most.
“In my heart, you play sports — or, in my case, you play basketball — to win championships,” he said. “So the things I treasure the most are my two championships at Duke and the gold medal with the Dream Team. All the work, blood, sweat and tears you do is for the championships, so that is what I treasure the most.”
According to basketball-reference.com, Laettner played for six NBA teams and averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in his 13-season career. He was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 1997 as a member of the Atlanta Hawks. At Duke, he was a first-team Associated Press All-American in 1992 and a second-teamer in 1991. He also won the 1991-92 Naismith Award as the nation’s top men’s basketball player for that season.
Laettner is available to host clinics and camps. His website is www.laettnerbball.com.