The former Wildcat talks with Lex, Buds, & Pick ‘n Roll about the 1992 UK-Duke game, the stomp, and how his grandmother once left Bobby Knight speechless.
As everyone online is currently going crazy over the fact that Christian Laettner was a member of the 1992 Dream Team (are people just NOW realizing this?), we had the pleasure this weekend of having a conversation with former Wildcat, Aminu Timberlake. A person who will be forever linked with Laettner’s name. While most of the country knows him simply as “that guy that Christian Laettner stomped on”, we in Big Blue Nation hold fond memories of him and wanted to find out Aminu’s perspective of that moment and the game, now that it has been almost 30 years (how is that possible?).
There were a LOT of great tidbits from our interview, including: Bernadette Locke-Maddox being a pioneer and why there aren’t more female coaches in college basketball, his recruitment under Rick Pitino and the convoy of Town Cars that arrived at his house for his home visit, and how he feels about Laettner’s apology. I would definitely encourage you to listen to the full podcast interview here on anchor.fm, but if you’re too busy for that, here were my top 4 takeaways from the interview:
1. Aminu’s grandmother confronted Bobby Knight. Indiana was one of the 5 schools left in Timberlake’s recruitment, so it was interesting to hear about his in-home visit from the General. Aminu’s grandmother, who was not a big sports fan and didn’t watch much basketball, only saw 1 game that Knight ever coached, which happened to be a few years earlier against Purdue when he infamously threw a chair across the floor. Grandma Timberlake was obviously not impressed by this, because when Coach Knight came for an in-home visit, she had a few words to say, which according to Aminu were: “Mr. Knight, I want to let you know I was watching TV and saw you throw that chair. I don’t know about your temper and I don’t trust my grandson going to your school.”
Aminu said there was then a long, awkward pause before Knight’s assistant coaches jumped in to say how much he had matured since that moment. I imagine that was a long trip back to Bloomington, because everybody knows in recruiting if you don’t win over the grandmother you’re not winning over the grandson. Kudos to her though for telling Coach Knight her true feelings, she sounds like an awesome lady.
2. The Laettner stomp “looked far worse than it actually was.” When asked to recall the play, Timberlake said, “I just remember trying to sell the charge and falling down. It was not a hard foul. Back then I had an 8-pack and I didn’t feel it at all.” Was throwing in his 8-pack in college a little bit of a humble brag? Maybe. But considering the only 8 pack I’ve achieved during this quarantine is of the Oreo variety, I can’t say much.
I have wondered for the last 28 years how he was able to keep his composure after that play, and now it makes more sense when you find out he actually didn’t really feel anything from it. If anything, Aminu seemed to be more excited about the fact he had rattled Laettner, saying “Yes, I got in his head and got a tech. Here we go! I contributed in a way he was so frustrated that he acted differently from what he would normally do.”
3. There was debate in the huddle as to whether or not to guard the inbounds pass on the final play. Aminu took us inside the huddle after Sean Woods hit what all of us thought would be the game-winning shot. When asked about what was said during the timeout that followed, Aminu said “From what I remember it was a back and forth about what they should do. On the ball or off the ball. But sooner or later landed on “let’s just surround Laettner.”
What I wouldn’t give to know who the coaches were that were for guarding Grant Hill’s inbounds pass, and who wasn’t. It sounds like this was a 50/50 decision and there was quite a bit of discussion about it. One can’t help but wonder how things might have been different had the argument landed on the other side and we put someone on Hill. Or if we had actually surrounded Laettner instead of having both guys behind him. As Timberlake pointed out, Rick Pitino has since said he would never make that mistake again (not guarding the inbounds pass), and I think it’s safe to say that game has influenced every coach’s decision on this matter since 1992.
4. If they were to play a game of 1-on-1 today, Timberlake thinks he would hand Laettner a big “L”. There was no hesitation in his voice whatsoever either. When we brought up this hypothetical match-up and who would win, Aminu said, “Oh, definitely me. No doubt…He (Laettner) would be ending up with an ‘L’.” Timberlake cited his competitive nature and the pride he still takes in playing the game of basketball as reasons why he would have the edge. And I believe him.
After this interview was over, we thought about all the possibilities. Imagine a 1-on-1 game between these two at Rupp Arena at Big Blue Madness, or at halftime of a regular season game, or anywhere really! All proceeds and ticket sales could go to the charities of the winners choosing. There is not a UK fan alive who wouldn’t LOVE for the chance to see Aminu get his revenge after all these years. I for one think this needs to be set up right now as the first UK sporting event after the quarantine ends. That is, if Mr. Laettner isn’t afraid. Timberlake said during our interview, “Just let me know and I’ll be there. When and where.”
Christian, do you accept the challenge?