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    UConn Men's Basketball
    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    History still follows ex-Husky Sellers

    Ex-UConn star Rod Sellers (22) drives to the basket against Kevin Freeman during the 2002 Jim Calhoun Charity All-Star Game at Mohegan Sun Arena.

    One day at work, someone recognized Rod Sellers.

    Sellers has been at his new sales job in the Atlanta area for only a few months.

    "You're the guy that elbowed Laettner," said the stranger after asking if Sellers played basketball at UConn.

    "Even today, twenty three years later ...," Sellers said. "It's crazy. It's taken on a life of its own. I wanted it to go away."

    Sellers will be forever associated with Duke's Christian Laettner and an incident that occurred on March 22, 1991 during an NCAA Midwest Region semifinal loss in the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan. It was the second straight year the Blue Devils ended the Huskies' postseason.

    During a scramble for a loose ball, Sellers landed on Laettner and then used his forearm to slam the Duke star's head to the floor.

    It remains one of the most memorable moments in the rivalry between two of college basketball's elite programs. UConn and Duke meet for the 10th time on Thursday at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. The Blue Devils hold a 5-4 series lead.

    At the time, Sellers didn't think it was a big deal. He delivered his shot in retaliation for receiving a "vicious" elbow to the head from Laettner a few minutes earlier. He left the game dazed and bleeding from a gash on the inside of his mouth. He believes he suffered a concussion.

    When he returned, he saw an opportunity for payback.

    "It was part of the game," said Sellers, who was a Duke fan growing up in South Carolina. "It wasn't like I hated the guy. He hit me and I hit him back."

    No foul was called, but the NCAA eventually reviewed the replay and suspended Sellers for UConn's first NCAA tournament game against Nebraska the following season.

    Husky fans loved it and continue to praise him for his not-going-to-take-it-anymore play.

    "It was a huge moment in UConn history, one guy explained to me," Sellers said.

    The year before, Laettner delivered his own painful blow, sinking a buzzer-beating basket to lift Duke to a 79-78 overtime win over UConn in the Elite Eight in East Rutherford. It's a loss that Sellers said will haunt him for the rest of his life.

    Tate George came agonizingly close to sealing the win but fumbled the ball out of bounds, giving Duke life. Sellers arrived too late to try to block Laettner's shot.

    "That was hard to accept," Sellers said.

    Sellers' slamdown of Laettner still has legs.

    ESPN recently interviewed him for a 30-for-30 documentary called "I Hate Christian Laettner" that will air next March.

    Sellers has taken some heat over the years, being called a thug and cheap shot artist. He also heard from his mother shortly after the game.

    "She asked me what happened to me," Sellers said. "(She said), 'you had the devil in your eyes.' "

    Sellers has run into Laettner quite a few times over the years, but they've never discussed what transpired. He's amazed that people still dig up the video whenever the two teams meet.

    After losing the first four meetings, UConn finally beat Duke (90-86) in the 1994 Great Eight regular-season tournament in Auburn Hills, Mich, as Kevin Ollie scored a career-high 24 points.

    "We came out with fire and passion," said Ollie, who's facing Duke for the first time as head coach on Thursday. "That was the first time we beat Duke. We had a chip on our shoulder. We wanted to get Duke.

    "It's always been a good rivalry. They're a great program."

    UConn has won four of the last five meetings, including earning the program's historic first national championship by shocking heavily-favored Duke, 77-74, in 1999. It is considered one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history.

    "It was called the Duke Invitational that year because of that team," said director of basketball administration Kevin Freeman, a starter on the 1999 title team. "It was definitely sweet for us to play the number one team ... They were a great team. It does give us a lot of satisfaction beating that team."

    The Huskies scored another significant win in the 2004 Final Four, roaring back from an eight-point deficit with just under four minutes left for a 79-78 victory in the semifinals on the way to their second championship.

    "I'll never forget the semifinals in 2004," said Jim Calhoun, who went 4-3 vs. Duke during his Hall of Fame career. "We've played some great games against them.

    "Someone asked me, why is it so special to beat Duke? Because (coach) Mike (Krzyzewski's) teams over the past 25 years have really set a standard. And to beat the best team makes you a lot better."

    UConn (4-3) will be looking for make another statement on Thursday. No. 2 Duke (9-0) is a decisive favorite.

    Sellers would love to be there but is unable to make the trip. He's already is planning a celebration.

    "I told my manager if UConn wins Thursday, I'm walking into his office with a UConn hoody on," Sellers said.


    Twitter: @GavinKeefe

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