Gene Wojciechowski's upcoming book published by Blue Rider Press, The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds That Changed Basketball, hits bookstores everywhere on January 5, 2012. I conducted a mini-interview with the senior national ESPN.com columnist.
Danielle Solzman: What made you want to write a book on the game? I’m a die-hard Kentucky fan and am planning to read it even if I hate those final seconds that get forced down our throats each and every year.
Gene Wojciechowski: I wrote the book because it's the best game I've ever seen and/or covered in person. I wrote it because I loved the story of the Unforgettables, Pitino, Mashburn and CM Newton. I wrote it because I admired what Krzyzewski did with a dysfunctional Duke team. I wrote it because Laettner intrigued me. I wrote it because I love the passion of UK fans. Most of all, I wrote it because it was the only game I've ever seen where the losing team didn't really lose. That game helped make Kentucky, well, Kentucky again. Even in defeat, it was a defining moment for that program and those players. I know they lost a game, but they won back the Kentucky basketball name.
Danielle Solzman: You said it was the best game that you have ever seen and/or covered in person? Which other games would rank out your top 5?
Gene Wojciechowski: Best game I've ever watched. Best game I've ever covered. The rest of the top 5? I'd have to think about that. I've seen a lot of stuff. Game 6 of this latest World Series was amazing. I covered the Villanova win against Georgetown for the national title—at Rupp. I covered the infamous Chris Webber timeout call against North Carolina in the national championship game at the Superdome. I was there for the Bartman Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. And I've seen a lot of Tiger Woods.
Danielle Solzman: Even though it was the greatest college basketball game of all time, there are some fans out there that hate Duke with a passion and might not want to read it thinking it’s more of a Duke book then a Kentucky book. What do you say to those types of fans?
Gene Wojciechowski: As for Kentucky fans who don't want to read about Duke...
Well, I would tell them there's nothing I can do about the final score. Laettner made a shot for the ages and Kentucky fans, who are among the most knowledgeable hoops fans on the planet, surely have to appreciate what he did from a basketball standpoint. They might not like Duke, Laettner or The Shot, but they know they witnessed something historic.
But the book isn't just about the game. It's about how C.M. Newton and President Roselle put back together the pieces of the UK program. How Pitino came to be the head coach. How a little-known strength and conditioning coach named Rock Oliver helped make those players into a basketball machine. How three Kentucky kids and an Indiana kid became legends for UK. How Mashburn helped save the program. How, even in defeat, Kentucky really won.
I loved writing about the Kentucky players and staff. And Duke's players and coaches, to this day, marvel at the dignity, integrity and talent displayed by that 1992 UK team. Some of the very best stuff in the book is Krzyzewski and Laettner and Grant Hill talking about how great that UK team was.