If the Indiana players have been too nice, Knight may be partly to blame. He claims he has not mellowed over the years. But it's true that at 52 he's more patient and tolerant—kinder, even—than he was as a driven young coach. Although Knight refuses to talk publicly about his personal life, his friends say that his second marriage, to Karen Vieth Edgar, a former high school basketball coach in Oklahoma, has had a soothing effect on him. He jokes in public appearances about how tough it is to come home after a loss and be second-guessed by the other coach in the house, but he has enormous respect for Karen's basketball sense. For example, during a meeting with his staff after the Hoosiers' opening-round NIT victory over Murray State, in Blooming-ton on Nov. 18, Knight mentioned that Karen had pointed out to him that the players were moving their feet improperly on defense.
It would be foolish, though, to bet that Knight will never again become involved in the sort of controversies that have marred his career. Just last March, remember, there was a flap over his abrupt cancellation of a team banquet in the wake of a bitter loss to Purdue, and another erupted when a photo was published that showed him standing over Cheaney with a bullwhip that the players had given to him as a joke. That same month Knight demonstrated his odd idea of democracy, when seniors Eric Anderson and Jamal Meeks were forced to surrender their leadership roles to the juniors. "The vote on that was unanimous, one to nothing," says Knight, "and the results in the NCAA tournament were pleasing to those of us who voted for it."
On the other hand, it's also true that he enjoys being one of the game's elder statesmen. For instance, after Indiana beat Florida State in last season's West Regional. Knight suggested to Seminole coach Pat Kennedy that he try a different approach with his defense. Taking Knight at his word, Kennedy, who as a kid had once fetched soft drinks for Knight at a summer camp, came to Bloomington with an assistant coach shortly after practice began in November.
"It was a very gracious offer on his part," says Kennedy of the daylong visit. "After practice we got a chance to sit and talk basketball with him. Then we went to dinner and talked some more basketball. He felt we could be a good man-to-man team. I think that was the point he wanted to get across, having prepared for us and watched our tapes."
Kennedy paid attention so well that Florida State's man-to-man was almost more than the Hoosiers could handle in the NIT. The hero for Indiana was Pat Graham, who came off the bench in the second half to score 14 points. His play brought Indiana back from a 12-point deficit, and by the time Graham went down with an injury late in overtime, the Hoosiers had pulled out the game. Sadly, X-rays revealed that Graham, who had missed all of last season with a broken bone in his left foot, had fractured the same bone, meaning that he's out indefinitely.
As close as Knight has been to Kennedy, the championship game versus Seton Hall was even more personal for him. During his days at Army one of Knight's favorite people was Pete Carlesimo, then the athletic director at Fordham and the head of the NIT, which was at the time a highly regarded postseason tournament. After watching him coach a few games at West Point, Carlesimo was convinced that Knight had the potential to be an extraordinary coach. "At West Point you had to do it the hard way," says Carlesimo now. "He had to do more with less, and he proved he could."
Four of Knight's six Army teams played in the NIT, and one of them finished third. In 1969, when Carlesimo invited the Cadets to the tournament over the objections of committee members who didn't think they were good enough, Carlesimo had the last laugh after Army upset top-seeded South Carolina.
Over the years, Knight has remained loyal to the NIT and his old friends. When the Hoosiers won the postseason NIT in 1979, Knight had Lapchick's widow, Bobbie, with him when he accepted the trophy from Carlesimo. When Carlesimo came up with the idea for the Preseason NIT in 1985, Knight helped him sell it to the NCAA and to his fellow coaches. Knight thought—correctly, as it turned out—that the expansion of the NCAA tournament to 64 teams might ruin the postseason NIT. Heck, the two men are so close that when Carlesimo gave up his job with the NIT in 1988, Knight was the main speaker at the retirement banquet.
Soon after meeting Knight in the mid-'60s, Carlesimo ran into him at a basketball camp in Scranton, Pa., and introduced him to P.J., his teenage son. Knight liked the kid so much that years later he was delighted when P.J. decided to go into coaching. In fact, much as Bee and Lapchick had helped him, Knight helped young Carlesimo. In 1989, when P.J. took Seton Hall to the Final Four, only Pete was prouder of the achievement than Knight, even though the Pirates had eliminated the Hoosiers in the West Regional.
During this year's Preseason NIT final, Pete, now 77, sat eight rows behind the Indiana bench. Asked what it would mean to him to see P.J.'s team win, Pete said, "Well, since the championship trophy is named after me, it would be my greatest thrill. Nothing would mean more to me."