When Luke Recker, the top scorer on Indiana's basketball team, declared last week that he will transfer out of Bob Knight's program, he had the diplomatic sense to blame himself. "I have not been satisfied with my development as a player," Recker said in a prepared statement. Yet the timing of his announcement left little doubt about why he's leaving Bloomington. Recker waited until the Man in the Red Sweater was in Cuba for a coaching clinic cum fishing trip before submitting his walking papers.
Recker is the latest to join a growing band of Indiana transfers—11 in this decade alone—who wearied of enduring their coach's profanity-laced tirades and having his pathological tendencies passed off as old-school virtues, and who resented the way a despot nearly 40 years their senior bleached the fun and joy out of a game they once loved. Still, Recker's departure might hit harder than most. The Hoosiers' recruiting pool has grown shallow due to the program's lockstep discipline and mirthless reputation, but Recker—Indiana's high school Mr. Basketball of 1997—seemed cut out for Knight life. A homegrown Hoosier who committed to Indiana as a high school sophomore, Recker grew up worshiping Steve Alford (perhaps his next college coach, at Iowa, though North Carolina, Florida and Kansas are also possibilities), and he possessed the sort of plucky, fundamentally sound game that was a cream-and-crimson trademark. If he can't survive the Bloomington boot camp, who can? "I think there are very few kids anymore who are willing to deal with the things at Indiana that you have to do to play there," former Hoosier wonder boy Damon Bailey said recently.
Knight's shrinking legion of knee-jerk apologists was in midseason form last week. Callers to Indiana radio shows demonized their former hero as Luke (Program) Recker. A banner hung from an apartment on one of Bloomington's main streets read F—- RECKER. Whatever outrage Recker's move provoked, though, it wasn't a complete shock. A widespread rumor—one that some insiders say is true—has it that Recker wanted to transfer last year, but that Knight, already stung by the departures of guard Neil Reed and center Jason Collier, told Recker that if he left, he would quit. Recker, apparently unwilling to shoulder such a burden, returned. (Knight could not be reached for comment by SI; Recker declined to discuss the matter.)
Will Knight retire now? Not even that happy ending would help kids like Recker, who dreamed of playing ball for a legend and encountered a tyrant instead. But before his legacy suffers more damage—before the General goes out as ignominiously as MacArthur—Knight might want to emulate Luke Recker and fashion an exit strategy of his own.