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How Indiana Got Smart
Bruce Newman
November 18, 1987
When juco man Keith Smart hit the Shot (left), to win the NCAA, Bob Knight looked like a genius
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November 18, 1987

How Indiana Got Smart

When juco man Keith Smart hit the Shot (left), to win the NCAA, Bob Knight looked like a genius

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When Knight blew into town like a cyclone one day for his first recruiting visit, Smart, who had not gotten the word, had some topiary work done on his hair. He showed up in the locker room that night with a circle cut around the top of his head, two arrows carved out of the back and his usual load of seven or eight gold chains. "When Coach Knight saw me he didn't say a word," Smart recalls. "He just stared."

Smart visited the Indiana campus and was impressed that he had to spend an entire day in classrooms talking to professors. He knew how important graduation was to his mother, Rose, who cooks and cleans at the Sisters of St. Joseph convent in Baton Rouge. "When the nuns heard I was considering Indiana," says Smart, "they all told her Bobby Knight was crazy."

Knight, meanwhile, was still less than crazy about the whole juco idea. After agonizing over the decision to recruit transfer players who might tarnish his program's academic record, Knight brought in forward Andre Harris from Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kans. for the 1985-86 season. While Harris gave the Hoosiers some sorely needed credibility around the basket, he went AWOL academically once the season started. Harris left the team for academic reasons, and a junior college stigma marked Smart and Garrett when they arrived in Bloomington.

"When Keith and I got here, everybody was watching to see how the junior college transfers would do," Garrett says, "and that put a lot of pressure on us." It also brought Garrett and Smart together. "It made us unbelievably close, like brothers," Garrett says. Smart and Garrett are both on schedule to graduate with their class and seem to have taken it upon themselves to remove the juco stigma. Smart may be going overboard trying not to give a bad impression: "I don't go out, ever. I just sit in my room and study, so nobody can say they saw me in some bar causing trouble."

Garrett's life is only slightly less cloistered, but he seems equally content to focus on basketball and live up to Knight's exacting academic expectations. For Garrett, that's a switch. He grew up, if not necessarily out, in Southern California, where he finished high school at 6'8", 176 pounds. "A real stringbean," he says. He entered City College of San Francisco, but at the end of his freshman year, Garrett had eight D's and F's, which couldn't have pleased his mother, Bobbie, who has a degree in social ecology from Cal-Irvine.

It definitely didn't please his coach, Duggan, who made Garrett run the gym stairs for 98 consecutive days, often at 6 a.m. This was also about the time Wright called Duggan to tell him Indiana was interested in Garrett. Duggan knew of Knight's reputed disdain for junior college players and that he rarely recruited as far away as California. "I told him that was b.s. and hung up on him," Duggan says. "He called back and tried to convince me that Indiana was really interested in Dean. I told him I'd believe it when I saw him here." Wright showed up two days later, and Knight eventually made one of his show-stopping appearances, creating such a stir that football practice was suspended when 40 players insisted on going to the gym to watch Knight watch Garrett.

By then, Garrett wasn't the only player at City College worth watching. Mark Robinson, a 6'5" forward, had brought his game up from Ventura, Calif., after recruiters from the four-year schools had ignored him—largely because his extracurricular schedule in high school often was just too busy to permit him actually to attend classes. "I was a troublemaker," says Robinson. When he showed up for basketball practice as a high school junior, the coach asked him to run through drills with the other players. "I told him I'd come back when they were ready to scrimmage," says Robinson, whose afternoons were entirely free after that. He played as a senior only because he transferred to another school.

In a track meet while attending City College. Robinson high-jumped 6'10" and suddenly had most of the West Coast schools panting for him. Knight liked Robinson's silky style, but wasn't convinced he was tough enough to play at Indiana. Enter Duggan. "I said, 'Fine, I'll send him to Purdue, and he'll kick your ass,' " Duggan recalls. "He goes, 'No, no, don't do that.' I never took the attitude he was doing these kids a favor by letting them go to Indiana."

Robinson, along with Smart and Garrett, will attempt to lead the Hoosiers to an encore performance. But it won't be easy. Garrett performed brilliantly down the stretch against LSU in the Midwest Regional Final, as Indiana came from 12 points down in the second half to win 77-76. Then Smart, who had played in Steve Alford's shadow all season, simply took the final seven minutes of the championship game into his own hands to secure the Hoosiers' 74-73 victory over Syracuse. "Sometimes I think about where I was not long ago, flipping burgers," Smart says. "Then junior college, then to Indiana where they never took junior college players, then hitting the Shot. It's so unbelievable, sometimes it's as if I'm watching a movie. I keep waiting for it to end, but it's my life."

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