Helen Leugers walked into her daughter's living room to Springfield, Ohio, on Sept. 11, 1995, and sized up the Indiana coach who had come to recruit her grandson Jason Collier. Leugers covered Bob Knight's mouth with her palm and asked, "Why do so many filthy words come out of here?"
Knight began to blush but recovered smoothly. "Mrs. Leugers, I don't think God will frown on me for what I say to fine young men like your grandson," he said. "I think he'll smile on me for what I do to help them." Then Knight invited Leugers to sit beside him on the couch. He pulled out a map of the college basketball landscape, which he had drawn himself. It had a skewed scale similar to one of those Saul Steinberg posters in which New York City is the center of the world, only in this one the trip between Bloomington, Ind., and Springfield looked like walking distance. Meanwhile, Knight's recruiting competition in places like Atlanta, Durham and Chapel Hill might as well have been in Nepal.
Then Leugers asked, "Why does it matter how close we are to Bloomington since the games are all sold out anyway?"
"Ma'am," Knight said, "if you can't get a ticket, I'll let you sit on the bench beside me, and you can elbow me whenever I get out of line."
Helen turned to her husband, Joe, and whispered, "Now I know we'll never have a problem getting tickets." Jason Collier was a Hoosier from that moment on.
This encounter is noteworthy because it shows how, after several lackluster recruiting classes, Knight has gotten back out on the hustings to rebuild his grassroots support. Hoosier assistant Dan Dakich told the Collier family that the pursuit of Jason was Knight's most zealous courtship of a recruit in Dakich's 12-year tenure in Bloomington. Knight even cut short an overseas fishing trip to scout Collier at Howard Garfinkel's Five-Star camp in Pittsburgh.
By all accounts Knight had grown weary of his program's recent mediocrity—including first-round NCAA tournament flameouts the last two seasons and a third-round exit the year before that—and his renewed spirit began to pay dividends last Friday night when Indiana defeated Duke 85-69 to win the Chase NIT at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In the championship game junior forward Andrae Patterson exploded for 39 points, Knight's precocious freshman class controlled the perimeter, and Indiana collected perhaps its most significant victory since making the Final Four in '92.
On the night before his Hoosiers lost to Boston College in the NCAA tournament opener last March in Orlando, Knight admitted to a group of friends that he had slipped into the same trap that had snagged him in the mid-'80s: He simply did not have enough talent to win a Big Ten championship, and an NCAA title was out of the question. His response a decade ago was to recruit Keith Smart and Dean Garrett from the junior college ranks as a quick fix, and in their first season with Indiana, in 1987, Knight won his third national title on Smart's buzzer-beater against Syracuse. Knight's answer this time was to rededicate himself to recruiting outstanding freshmen.
On Nov. 11, during an annual booster club meeting at a restaurant in Starlight, Ind., Knight had just finished delivering his preseason State of the Hoosiers address when a woman in the back of the room asked, " Coach Knight, we'd like to know if we can expect another national championship before you retire?"
"Well, I'd be all in favor of that," Knight said. "But what the hell are you doing here tonight? If you were a true Indiana fan, you and your husband would see fit to present me with a seven-foot-two center who can run and shoot."