The Connecticut pride of the Continental Basketball Association had just beaten the Yakima (Wash.) Sun Kings with a shot at the buzzer. But the Pride wasn't quite through with physical struggle for the night. Its 10 players were changing into street clothes in a locker room roughly the size of an airplane lavatory, and the scene resembled a costume change backstage at the Versace spring fashion show.
The makeshift coaches' quarters consisted of two wooden chairs near the entrance to the showers. And that is where Pat Knight, the Pride's assistant coach, was poring over game stats and thinking about Connecticut's next opponent, the Rockford (Ill.) Lightning. His reverie was interrupted by an irate voice. "Damn!" yelled a player wrapped in an undersized towel. "They ran out of soap in the shower again."
So what is a well-connected kid like Knight, the younger son of Indiana coach Bob Knight, doing in a place like this? "Paying my dues," he says with a smile. "When I made up my mind that I wanted to coach, I was prepared to work my way up. All you have to do is look at the coaches in the NBA who got their start in this league—guys like George Karl and Phil Jackson—and you know it's a great place for a young guy to start out."
The no-frills CBA combines high-flying hoops with bush-league trappings. Here an assistant coach not only earns a pittance—$20,000 for six months is top dollar—but also moonlights as a scout, player-personnel director, video coordinator and dime-store psychologist. Knight, who stands 6'6" and is only two years removed from his reserve role in the Indiana backcourt, frequently practices with the team as well. If his father is the General, then Pat, 26, is a private on KP duty. "Nothing beats this experience, because there's always something that needs to be done," says Pat. "Luckily I haven't had to suit up for a game yet, but in this league you expect anything to happen."
The toughest task Pat has faced so far was convincing his college coach—dear old Dad—that the right place to launch a career in the family business was the CBA, a league filled with wannabes, has-beens, never-will-bes and perhaps a handful of players who will emulate New York Knick John Starks and Charlotte Hornet Anthony Mason and graduate to the NBA. The CBA is home to precisely the brand of renegade basketball that would send a hoops perfectionist like Bob Knight into paroxysms. "First of all, I didn't want him to get into coaching. I think there's added pressure for him," says Bob. "He reminded me that my father had tried to talk me out of my first coaching job at Army. Pat had a good point, and I feel like he should get a chance."
A long chat with his son and then with Flip Saunders, the Minnesota Timberwolves coach who was with the CBA's Lacrosse ( Wis.) franchise from 1989 to '95, convinced Bob that this was a good career move. Says Pat, "I told my dad that one main reason this job appealed to me was that down the road, when people are considering me for another position, I want them to say, 'This guy has done everything, and he's had nothing given to him.' "
Pat knows firsthand the sting that attends perceptions of nepotism. As a trigger-happy forward for Bloomington ( Ind.) High School North who then spent a postgrad year improving his game at New Hampton prep school, in New Hampshire, he attracted the interest of several Division I college programs. ("I was going to recruit him," former Illinois coach Lou Henson once quipped, "until I realized I'd have to make a home visit.") But right before the young Knight was scheduled to make a recruiting visit to Colorado, his father persuaded him to play at Indiana.
Pat was seldom used in his first two seasons, but he was a crowd favorite, the last guy off the bench, exhorted to shoot in the final minutes of blowouts. But when he worked his way into the team's regular rotation as a senior, he was booed lustily by some of the Indiana faithful, who were upset that the coach was playing his own son. Though Pat performed his role well—he would finish the season fourth on the team in assists—his playing time became an issue of statewide interest, debated on the editorial page of The Indianapolis Star. "I knew from the start that I wouldn't have been playing basketball at a school as big as IU if it weren't for my dad," says Pat, still rankled by the memory, "but I always dreamed about being on one of his teams, and I wasn't about to give that up."
Pat's career at Indiana was further tarnished by a bizarre incident, replayed countless times on television highlights, during his junior year in which his father kicked him in the shin after he made a sloppy pass against Notre Dame. Pat, who possesses the diplomatic sense his father lacks, says only, "My dad and I definitely had our moments—like any player and coach do—but looking back on it, one of the best parts about my playing at Indiana was that it brought us closer. We're best friends now." Indeed, after Pat's last game as a Hoosier, his father, never the mushy type, pronounced him "my alltime favorite player" and gave him a big hug.
Still, when Pat graduated from Indiana in 1995 with a degree in sports management, he was ready to escape Bob's shadow. Rather than follow the lead of Mike Krzyzewski, Dave Bliss and Jim Crews, three of the nine Division I coaches who either played for or coached with the elder Knight, Pat made a break for the pros, accepting a position with the Phoenix Suns. After a year of scouting college players, Pat missed being on the bench during games, so he mass-mailed his resume in search of an entry-level coaching position.