WashingtonWizards.com Mailbox: Christian Laettner

Laettner is averaging 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds this season.
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images
Christian Laettner came into the NBA after one of the most successful college basketball careers in NCAA History. He was the first ever player to start in four consecutive NCAA Final Fours and led Duke to consecutive NCAA titles in 1991 and 1992.

Laettner is the all-time NCAA Tournament career scoring leader with 407 points and was the winner of the Wooden, Kodak/NABC and Naismith Awards as the National Player of the Year in 1992. He was honored following graduating from Duke by being named as a member of the 1992 U.S Men's Olympic Basketball Team better known as the Dream Team which won the gold medal in Barcelona.

After stints with Minnesota, Atlanta, Detroit and Dallas, Laettner was traded to the Wizards during the 2000-01 season as part of a deal that sent Juwan Howard to the Dallas Mavericks. Last season Laettner averaged 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He scored a seaon-high 29 points on a career-high 13 field goals at Boston on November 7, 2001 and had a season-high 16 rebounds against the Celtics on 3/10/02.

So far this season, Laettner is averaging 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds a game, but it's his on-the-court leadership that has made a difference for some of the young Wizards players. Laettner demonstrated his efficiency and veteran savvy with his 15 point (7-9 FGs), seven rebound performance last night against Orlando.

Laettner had a couple of minutes to check his inbox before the game and answered some of your questions.

Kara - Manassas, Virginia: Which have you enjoyed more playing at : Duke or the NBA?

Christian Laettner: That a hard question. I had a great time playing at Duke. We won a lot of games, played for a great coach in a great program and it was the ultimate in terms of basketball, but it's not the highest level of basketball. It's not professional and there is nothing quite like the professional game in terms of feeling fulfilled. College was great but I can't deny that I have been having a great time in the pros too.

Keith - Canton, Georgia: What is the difference in your game now as opposed to earlier in your career?

Christian Laettner: As you get older you can't play with the reckless abandon that you used to play with. You have to be smarter, you have to stretch more, you have to ice more and you have to lift more.

On the court it's just a natural progression of learning how to play and shooting the ball and playing better defense and getting a better feel for the offensive end, but off the court there is a lot more work to do. You have to take care of yourself better and eat well.

Hopefully my game hasnít changed too much in terms of always trying to do the right thing: attack, drive to the basket, shoot my jumper when its there and just try and play the right way.

Mitchell - Los Angeles, California: What's the differnce between Michael when you played with him in the 1992 Olympics and playing with him now?

Christian Laettner: In 1992 he was the best player in the world by far. Last year and this year he is 39 and 40 years old so he can't quite do the same things he used to when he was young.

Last year he had 50 points one game, I donít know if anyone else had 50 points all year. He's already had 41 points this year. He is still an outstanding player, he's more of a veteran player in terms of picking his moments when to explode and use all his skills, and because he's very smart out there he is still a great scorer. He hits all his jump shots and he is still a great person to play with out there because he draws so much attention and when he passes the ball you are usually wide open so you can get your shot off.

Tiana - Lanham, Maryland: If you had to pick the best five NBA players, who you pick and why?

Christian Laettner: I donít know. Thatís a hard question. I would say Shaquille O'Neal then maybe Tim Duncan after that but there are just too many good players. Kobe's great.

There's not five. There's about 20 really, really good players in the league. But the most dominant seems to be Shaq the last three years, and thatís why they have three championships and until someone stops them they might win again.

Gustavo - Washington, D.C.: Who was your favorite NBA player growing up?

Christian Laettner: I'm from Buffalo New York so I saw a lot of northern Eastern Conference teams. I watched a lot of Boston, a lot of Philly so I loved watching Dr. J (Julius Erving) and Larry Bird.

Mark - Landover, Maryland: How interested are you in coaching once your playing career is over?

Christian Laettner: I'm definitely going to want to coach, I just donít know at what level. I'm pretty sure that once I retire and my daughters are grown up I will be involved in coaching them a little bit in high school.

I'm sure once they are older and they go off to college then I might start coaching college somewhere and if the college routine goes well then I might want to go to the pros. My father was a coach and I have been coaching a little bit the last 10-15 years at some summer basketball camps and I have lots of fun with the kids. It's very rewarding if you can get them to like you and respect you. I enjoy it so I plan on doing it when I'm older.