The players arrived at 3 p.m. on Dec. 9 for their final walkthrough for the Kansas State game. But before they could get started, Knight took off on Alford. "Alford, you really cost us that game on Saturday, and I want you to know that I really resent it. I can't forget it. I'm just out of patience with you. What you did was stupid. It wasn't a mistake, it was just plain stupid. You've been told and——told and——retold, and you screwed up and cost us a game. I really have trouble forgetting that. This is a habit with you. You don't listen, whether it's defense or playing hard or this. I don't know about anyone else in here, but I resent it. Because of you we lost to a——operation. I won't forget that,"
Indiana was 8-2 by Jan. 1, the day before the Big Ten opener at home against Michigan. Everyone knew how badly Knight wanted to beat Michigan. Even if New Year's Day was not a holiday for the players, practice was going well and if it had stayed that way, everyone would have gone home feeling good, feeling ready. But then the simmering antagonism between Knight and Alford, that feeling of rivalry that seemed to exist just below the surface of their relationship, exploded in everyone's face.
It started when Knight decided that Alford had not picked up quickly enough on defense. "Goddam it, Alford, how many times do I have to tell you about finding your man on conversion," Knight said. "How many——times?"
What Knight had not seen—what he would see later on tape—was that Alford had been accidentally bumped going down the floor by Daryl Thomas. He had been with his man until Thomas sent him flying. Alford started to explain. "I don't want to hear it," Knight broke in. "I don't want to hear your excuses. I'm sick of them."
Knight threw his most withering glare at Alford. To everyone's surprise, including Knight's, Alford glared right back—if only for a moment. That was enough, though. From that point on, Alford could do nothing right. Indiana players are not supposed to glare back.
The only Knight player who had ever made a habit of glaring back at Knight was Ted Kitchel. Now Knight grudgingly admitted that Kitchel was one of the toughest, most stubborn players he had ever coached. "I can't tell you how important my relationship with him is to me," Kitchel said of Knight. "It makes me feel like I'm special just because I had a chance to play for him. I still care what he thinks of me. Probably too much, but I do. And yet, he makes me feel uncomfortable when I'm around him, and I can vividly remember times when I hated him. Really hated him."
The one that people remembered best happened in 1983. Knight had just finished blistering the players, telling them how awful they were, how they would probably never win another game. Then Knight stalked out the door. Or so Kitchel thought. What Knight had done was walk around the corner to the door where he could not be seen, and stopped.
Thinking Knight was gone, Kitchel said to the team, "Just ignore him. He's full of——. We aren't nearly that bad."
With that, Knight roared around the corner. He grabbed Kitchel's red notebook and tore it up, throwing the pages all over the locker room. Kitchel, he vowed, would never play again, he would suffer for this. Kitchel just sat and stared at Knight. For two days he didn't practice, and when he did practice again, Knight chased him up and down the court kicking him in the rear end, yelling, "Move, Kitchel, move!"
Several weeks later, Kitchel, who had undergone back surgery as a freshman and then came back to lead Indiana in scoring as a junior, played what turned out to be his last game. His back had been getting worse and worse, and he had soaked it almost the entire night just so he could walk on the floor.