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As soon as news broke Monday afternoon that Shane Battier intends to announce he's joining ESPN as a college basketball analyst once the NBA Finals are over, the mini-backlash that followed was predictable.
Such criticism might be fair if ESPN was bypassing more qualified candidates in favor of Duke grads or if the ex-Blue Devils spoke solely in favor of their alma mater, but that's simply not the case. Bilas is the best in the business because of his combination of candor, insight and wit. Williams is knowledgeable, unafraid to speak his mind and has improved considerably on camera in recent years, especially in a studio role. And while Battier will have to prove himself, he's such an intelligent, eloquent speaker already that he's probably overqualified for the role.
One of the stars of Duke's national championship team in 2001 and its Final Four team in 1999, Battier remains a recognizable face to college basketball fans everywhere. The 35-year-old forward has since enjoyed a successful 14-year NBA career with the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Miami Heat, carving out a niche for himself as a 3-point shooter, hard worker and versatile defender.
When I was a beat writer covering the Lakers from 2008-2010, it was well-known among NBA media that Battier was a go-to interview for stories about issues plaguing the league because his responses were almost always insightful. That's an attribute that will surely translate well next season whether he's in the studio or serving as a game analyst.
In truth, it would be no surprise if this analyst gig is merely a short-term stepping stone as Battier figures out what he wants to do with his post-basketball life.
He could work in TV. He could become a coach or general manager. Heck, he could even run for office someday, as evidenced by his passion for politics and the offer he recently received to run for senate in Michigan.
Regardless, college basketball is lucky to have him for the time being. Yes, even if it means another Duke alum gracing your TV screen.
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