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Knight recruits with total honesty. He never makes a promise he cannot keep. Besides the normal athletic grant, he offers just two things: 1) the pledge that no one will work any harder than he does to see that the player gets an education in the field of his choice, and 2) that no one will work harder to develop the player's abilities to succeed in life. He says: "If a kid comes to Indiana and all we teach him is basketball, then we've really fouled up."
Bruce Parkinson is a freshman at Purdue. Knight talked to him, but when he learned that the highly sought guard had decided on Purdue he backed off quietly. "There was never any pressure," Parkinson says. "And he never promised anything he couldn't deliver. He never said I'd play. He said he'd give me a scholarship and an opportunity, nothing more. That's probably the main thing I remember: the fact that he said you'd have to work for everything you got."
And so that day in 1971 when Knight arrived in Bloomington with his pretty wife Nancy and their two young sons, Timothy and Patrick, he brought with him a reputation for winning, for outstanding defensive teams and for a hair-trigger temper. At a place that was just the least squeamish about his hiring, he started with a bang—one that went straight through the alumni. At the first practice a large allotment of grads gathered as they always had in years past, and Knight ordered them out. They went away howling. Knight ordered all practices closed because he wants nothing to distract his players. "If you are at a practice, you're supposed to be totally quiet," says Bob Hammel, sports editor of the Bloomington Herald-Telephone. "He has upbraided people for talking. That's his classroom and you don't talk in the classroom; you listen."
From the beginning Knight showed that the chain of command of basketball at Indiana would be one general and a lot of privates. "He's extremely military-minded," says Dr. Donald Boop, a dentist who was Knight's next-door neighbor and something of a surrogate father in Orrville, Ohio. "He never fought in a war, but he could sit there and talk battles with the generals for hours."
Among Knight's first orders was one for preseason conditioning drills. His new troops thought he was kidding. "We found out in a hurry," says Steve Downing, the Hoosiers' 6'8" senior center. "Our freshmen couldn't believe it. Neither could I. When we began last year I almost went into shock."
"We run a lot of 25-, 50-, and 75-yard dashes," says Ritter. "A whole lot of them. Then we finish by running to the top of the seats."
"Yeah, 109 steps," says Downing. "I count every one on the way up. After that, we figured practice would be easier. Ha! I'm always mad at the coach. 'Course I never tell him."
When practice began officially, Knight ended the conditioning drills. In their place was the football fumble drill. Two players line up on each side of the foul line and Knight rolls a ball between them. When it reaches a certain spot, the players dive for it.
"You learn in a hurry that the ball is golden," says Steve Green, a 6'7" sophomore who was on his way to either Kentucky or Vanderbilt—until he met Knight and became the first to sign with the new coach. "He sat down with me and told me what he was going to do and I believed him. And up to now he's done it. But, oh, that first day. It was a new experience. But I agree with his methods. Everybody agrees—when the season is over. During it we grumble."
Green adds, "When I saw that fumble drill just coming out of high school, I thought, 'Oh, God.' Now in a game you just dive for a ball without thinking. Later you think, gee, that hurt. After games we check each other for blood. We're kind of proud of how tough we are. We give an award. I won one once. 'Course I had some scabs left over from practice and I kind of picked them when no one was looking."