Today the player bothering him the most was Daryl Thomas. In Thomas, Knight saw a player of huge potential. Thomas was strong and wide, yet quick. He could shoot the basketball with both hands, and when he went past bigger men to the basket, they had little choice but to foul him. But Thomas was not one of those basketball players who liked to get up on game day and eat nails for breakfast to get ready. He was a middle-class kid from Chicago, extremely bright and sensitive. Knight's angry words often hurt him. Other Indiana players—Alford, for one—knew that Knight would say almost anything when he was angry, and that the only way to deal with that was to ignore the words of anger and listen to the words of wisdom. Dan Dakich, who had been Indiana's captain in 1984-85 and was now a graduate assistant coach, had told the freshman Calloway, "When he's calling you an——, don't listen. But when he starts telling you why you're an—-, listen. That way you'll get better."
Thomas couldn't shut off some words and hear others. He heard them all, and they sometimes hurt. Knight didn't want to hurt Thomas, but after three good practices, the team had begun to look sluggish. Intellectually, Knight knew this was inevitable. Emotionally, it drove him to the brink of complete hysteria.
First, Knight screamed at Thomas for playing carelessly. Then he banished him from the scrimmage. "Daryl," Knight screamed. "Get the——out of my sight. If that's the best you can give us after two days' rest, get away from me. There is absolutely no way you'll start on Saturday. No way. You cost yourself that chance today. You are so terrible, it's just awful. I don't know what the——you are thinking about. You think I was mad last year? You saw me; I was the maddest son of a bitch you ever saw. You want another year-like that? Just get the——-out of my sight."
When Knight is angry he spews profanities so fast they're hard to keep track of. In the right mood he can talk for hours without ever using a foul word. This wasn't the right mood. Turning to his assistant coaches, Knight added, "——Daryl Thomas. Don't even mess with him anymore."
After 20 minutes, Thomas was allowed to return. But he was tight. Some players react to Knight's anger with anger of their own and play better. Not Thomas; he tightens up. When Courtney Witte, a backup forward, scored over Thomas from inside, Knight blew up again. "Daryl, get in the game or get out! Do you know you haven't scored a basket inside since Jesus Christ was lecturing in Omaha? Just get out, Daryl. Get him the——in the locker room. He hasn't done a——thing since we got out here."
Thomas departed. His teammates felt for him because every one of them had been in his shoes at some point. Especially the better players; Knight rarely picks on the second-stringers. The rest of the team lasted two plays before Knight blew up again and told them all to join Thomas in the locker room. Knight was genuinely angry, but he was also playing a game with his team. It was a dangerous game, but one he had played successfully for 20 years: Put pressure on them now so they will react well to pressure from opponents later. But this was a delicate team, and it was a delicate situation. Last season's team had folded under Knight's pressure. Knight knew that. Some days this fall he restrained himself because of that. But not today.
In the locker room Knight ordered the assistant coaches to play back the videotape of the day's practice. As often happens when Knight is angry, he began invoking the past. "I'd like to know when somebody in here is going to go up and grab somebody and punch them when they watch this——. [Quinn] Buckner would have hit somebody by now. Do you know that? He just would have gone up and hit one of you——. People I played with in college would have killed you people if you pulled that——on them."
Knight stormed out, leaving the assistants and the players. Everyone in the room knew Knight would be back. Most people get angry, scream and yell, and then calm down. Knight, more often than not, gets even angrier.
Sure enough, five minutes later he returned. Thomas was on his mind. "Daryl, you know you are a joke," he said. "I have no more confidence in your ability to go out and play hard than I did when you were a freshman.
"Honest to Christ, I want to just go home and cry when I watch this——. Don't you boys understand? Don't you know how bad I want to see Indiana play basketball? I want to see Indiana play so bad I can taste it. I want a good team so bad it hurts. I want to go out there and kick somebody's ass."