Bob Knight built a legacy with his first team at Army
Posted: Monday January 1, 2007 2:06PM; Updated: Monday January 1, 2007 7:38PM
As a young coach at Army, Bob Knight was every bit as intense as he is now.
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Eight of them came to Lubbock in November to witness the start of the season in which their coach, Robert Montgomery Knight, would break the all-time record for Division I wins. These particular visitors were in their early 60s, just a few years younger than Knight. They played golf with him, ate barbeque, and told old basketball tales; some even sat in on Texas Tech's meetings and film sessions. Most stayed to see Knight record victories 870, 871 and 872.
Forty-one years ago, those men were on the floor for win No. 1 as members of the 1965-66 Army team. The reunion crowd in Lubbock (Bill Helkie, Paul Heiner, John Mikula, Dick Murray, Mike Noonan, Bill Platt, Bill Schutsky, and Bob Seigle) along with five others who weren't present (Townsend Clarke, Jack Isenhour, Ed Jordan, Dan Schrage and Mike Silliman) won 18 games for Knight that season, which he began at the ripe old age of 25. Knight won 102 games at West Point, 622 at Indiana, and the last 156, including Monday's victory over New Mexico, at Texas Tech.
The Internet generation of hoopheads -- many of whom were born in the late '70s or early '80s -- was raised on the red sweater-wearing Knight who won the 1987 national title with Keith Smart and Steve Alford ... as well as the Knight of many explosive lowlights, including chair-chucking, ref-berating, journalist-cursing and Neil Reed-choking. They remember the "zero-tolerance" policy at Indiana and Knight's eventual ouster from Hoosierland. That Knight has been covered ad nauseum. But what about the young coach who, just four seasons after graduating from Ohio State, took over the reins of the Army basketball program while the U.S. was on the brink of the Vietnam War?
Over the past two weeks we spoke with four members of Knight's first team -- men who played under Knight when he was an actual, enlisted Army private, not a Dick Vitale-nicknamed "General" -- and asked them to tell stories that help develop a portrait of the polarizing icon as a young man. The coach who would eventually surpass Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp in the record books was still developing his style back in 1965, and he favored a coat and tie instead of the trademark sweater, but his passion and volatility were already evident.
Chip off the Locke
By the winter of '65, Knight already had a strong reputation for both his basketball acumen and fiery behavior at West Point, after spending '63 and '64 coaching the plebe team and serving as Tates Locke's varsity assistant. (With a draft in effect, Knight said in his autobiography, Knight: My Story, that he came to Army "thinking about getting my military obligation out of the way and doing some coaching, too.")
Locke had a Knight-like intensity level, and the two coaches were hellishly physical players -- to the point of causing fights -- in the Army's noontime faculty league. (Locke, who left for Miami of Ohio, once gashed open his hand by punching out a wire-and-glass gym window after losing a pickup game.) Knight performed his advance-scouting duties under Locke with fervor and attention to minute detail.
Says 6-foot-2 guard Dick Murray, who was Knight's first captain: "I always contended that [Knight] meant at least eight points every ballgame to us because of his scouting reports."
It was an era in which game film was not widely available, and Murray recalls that Knight would stand before a blackboard in the locker room, draw out a court, "and tell us exactly what they were going to be doing" -- everything from offensive sets to the smallest of individual habits, such as shot-fake tendencies or susceptibilities on defense. "We would have those other teams down to a T," says Murray. "After Knight's reports, we would go through drills on how we were going to take them out of their rhythm, and how we were going to beat them down."