"That kid was never afraid. And he loved playing on your home court. He loved playing in big games. And, boy, when you get a great player who likes those moments, I mean, you're going to win a lot," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who puts Laettner in the top five college players all-time based on accomplishments and not talent.
"We won two national championships. He took us to four Final Fours. And he's the same guy now, for me, the same guy. He believes in everything and I love Christian."
Laettner's hunger for the game never went away after 13 NBA seasons with Minnesota, Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas, Washington and Miami. The forward averaged 12.8 points and was an All-Star once but laments now that he never had extended time in one city, or with one coach, to make a bid for a title.
After retiring in 2005, Laettner first got back into basketball by forming his own youth academy near his home in Jacksonville, Fla. But that only led to a desire see immediate results.
Laettner made it known at last year's NBA combine that he was looking for a job, and got one this year in Fort Wayne.
"The idea of him coaching is not a surprise," said former Duke teammate Grant Hill, noting that Laettner taught at youth basketball camps while in the NBA. "He's always wanted to coach. He's got a lot to offer.
"I think it's hard to get your foot in the door as an assistant in the NBA, but I respect that he's willing to do something that may not be super attractive in going down to the D-League and he's working and he's enjoying himself."
After trading in his jersey for a double-breasted suit, the 42-year-old Laettner believes he has a base of knowledge to instill in his new pupils. Beyond leading Duke's run, he was also the only college player on the "Dream Team" that won Olympic gold and the No. 3 overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft.
Success hasn't come quickly for him as a coach. His Mad Ants are near the bottom of the D-League standings, having lost all 10 of their games in February, and yet he says he's having an "absolute blast" — except for missing his wife and children back home.
Perhaps along the way, his players will pick up some of Laettner's edge that rubbed people the wrong way. Earlier in the Kentucky game, he stepped on the chest of the Wildcats' Aminu Timberlake.
He even had friction with his own point guard, Bobby Hurley, that seemed to drive both to play their best.
"He was demanding of himself and of the players that played with him and he liked to provoke guys but I had a blast playing with him," said Hill, now with the Phoenix Suns and in his 17th year in the NBA.
"He was competitive."
Laettner and Hill created a documentary called "Duke 91 & 92: Back to Back" that first aired Sunday night on truTV and takes a fresh look at that game in Philadelphia's Spectrum and a play against Rick Pitino's Wildcats that have never been forgotten.
It figures to be brought up even more if Duke and Kentucky — the top two teams in this year's South Regional — end up playing again for a trip to the Final Four.
"I'm impressed by (the interest) but not surprised by it. It was a big game," Laettner said. "I'm not the one that's promoting it and keeping it out there on the forefront. It's March Madness and it's the power of college basketball, the power of the NCAA tournament — how it's such a big sports spectacle."
Associated Press writer Danny Robbins in Dallas and AP Sports Writers Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C.; Colin Fly in Lexington, Ky.; and Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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