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Battier tackles a new challenge at American Century Championship

Fresh off winning his first NBA championship, the ultimate team guy's next challenge is one where he will be all alone, on the tee box of the 23rd annual American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe set for July 20-22.

The Miami Heat's Shane Battier has become a regular at America's premier celebrity golf tournament with some of the country's biggest sports and entertainment stars, including Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Ray Romano, John Elway, Jerry Rice, Aaron Rodgers, Ray Allen and Jason Kidd.

A defensive stalwart, Battier is used to sacrificing his game and doing the dirty work for the Heat's "Big Three" of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Florida. In Lake Tahoe, the Detroit-area native takes a different approach but his selflessness remains as he donates proceeds from his appearance to his own Take Charge Foundation as well as other charities.

Battier proved to be a secret weapon for Miami against Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals, combining his well-regarded defensive acumen with a surprisingly lethal 3-point shot to help the Heat top the Thunder in five games. He doesn't boast that kind of resume on the links but anyone who watches Battier on the hardwood knows he's a competitor.

While you can't expect the Duke product to push the perennial favorites in the tourney like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, former Major League pitcher Rick Rhoden and defending champion Jack Wagner, Battier will be in the mix with the rest of the field even if it's after he finishes.

"I'm fantastic at the 19th hole," Battier joked. "I'm undefeated. I hit a birdie every time there."

Self-deprecation aside, the competitor always comes out in Battier, the former National Player of the Year at Duke in 2001 and two-time All-NBA defensive honoree, even if the pressure of making a big putt on television may seem more ominous that sticking a game-winner at the buzzer in front of thousands of screaming fans at AmericanAirlines Arena.

"I am not going to lie. The first time you step on the first tee and you're overlooking the mountains and the lake -- the beautiful Lake Tahoe -- you do start to shake a little bit. But once you get that first drive off and in play, you settle in," Battier said.

"Golf is not something that comes naturally to me," the swingman continued. "I love to play but I don't like to practice and so when I go out there, I don't have the same reputation as I do on a basketball court."

A lockout-shortened NBA season that featured far fewer off days than in the past also wreaked havoc on Battier's ability to get out on the golf course during the season.

"I hit one bucket of balls at Doral which was pretty cool for me earlier in the year and that's about it," said Battier. "I am behind with my golf preparation without a doubt but that's not saying much, because the baseline is as low as it is."

Still, since some of the mechanics of a jump shot in basketball can translate very well to the golf course, some expect ballers to take to golf rather quickly.

"A lot of things (about the golf swing) resonate with me as a basketball player, because swings and basketball jump shots are very similar," Battier continued. "They have to be in sync and they have to be fluid and they have to be performed without thinking about the actual mechanics. And that's what makes a pure golf swing and that's what makes a pure jump shot. Sometimes you can over-think a jump shot, just like you can over-think a golf swing."

Of course Shane has always been known as more of an athlete and leaper since arriving in the NBA 11 years ago out of Durham, NC, and he has struggled with his golf game at times but that hasn't stopped him from having fun at the event.

"It is an unbelievable time, even for guys like myself, Battier said of the tournament. "I have finished in the bottom 10 golfers every year but it is still the highlight of my summer, just hanging out with my childhood heroes and the guys who are at the top of the game right now."

Romo, who finished second in the tourney each of the past two years, losing on the final hole to Wagner last year and to former NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver in 2010, has been installed an the early favorite by Harrah's Tahoe Sportsbook with Rhoden, an eight-time champ here, close behind.

Battier is an afterthought but still far ahead of the always entertaining Charles Barkley, who at 500-1 has become almost as famous for his herky-jerky golf swing as for his Hall of Fame basketball career.

Contender or not, however, Lake Tahoe has served as a bit of an oasis for the hard-working Battier, something to look forward too after the hard grind of another NBA season.

"There's always a fantastic show the American Century Championship," Battier said. "It's an unbelievable party and I will encourage anybody to come out and see some of the favorite stars and take the scenery because it's really a perfect place, very few places like it on earth."