- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
On that seemingly dark day in 1971 when Bobby Knight, recently of West Point, took command of Indiana's basketball forces, a great many people—none of them Bobby Knight—were apprehensive. Knight—ugh—played defense. The word was spat forth as though it consisted of four letters. In Indiana everyone knew how the game should be played: run and shoot, run and shoot. For many of the Hoosiers, Knight's coming was as welcome as broiled boar at a rabbinical clambake. They wanted General Patton and what they got was a guy who specialized in tank traps. It helped none when the newly arrived Knight took one look at a sign that read HURRYING HOOSIERS and said, grinning, "The guy that wrote that must be the world's greatest optimist."
And so several weeks ago a newcomer to Bloomington was stunned when during a game against Northwestern a leather-lunged fan leaped to his feet and screamed, "Dee-fense. For God's sake, Bobby, tell them to play dee-fense." The game was just two minutes old. Soon, the same appeal for Knight's tank traps was coming from all points of Indiana's new $13.9 million basketball palace. "Oh, that's nothing," said Tom Miller, the Indiana sports information director. "When we went into a late-game stall to protect a lead against Minnesota, the fans responded with a standing ovation. A few years ago they'd have been screaming for 100 points."
A few years ago there was always the possibility that Indiana might score 100 points—and lose. In fact, in 1963 Indiana scored 101 against Illinois and lost by three. And the next year the team scored 103 against Michigan State and lost by four. All those biffs don't mean a thing if in the end you get bammed.
"It's funny, but now when I see people taking shots just to get the ball in the air I think, wow, that's awful," says Dr. Jim Howard, an Indiana alumnus and an admitted basketball freak. "But before, well, it was the kind of basketball we grew up with. We weren't happy unless the ball was in the air. Now we've come to really appreciate defense."
Defense has been Knight's game ever since he was a substitute on Fred Taylor's celebrated Ohio State teams of the early '60s. Slow afoot and with people like John Havlicek, Larry Siegfried and Jerry Lucas as teammates, Knight, in spite of a keen shooting eye, did not play much, but he soaked up everything Taylor taught.
"It's strange," says Havlicek. "Bobby was the worst defensive player on the team, yet his teams now are so defense-oriented. But then Bobby was quite a split personality. I can imagine why he is such a great recruiter. You have to love him after the first meeting. But until they adjust, the kids he recruits must wonder how they got there when he gets them on a basketball court. He's positively savage."
"I think a better word would be intense," says John Ritter, the Indiana senior who has led the nation in free throws and Knight's Kiddie Korps into Big Ten battle—where the Hoosiers, still tied for first place last week despite losses to Ohio State and Purdue, have surprised everybody. "He works us hard and he demands that we get 100% from the talent we have. He has me doing things I used to believe were impossible. He makes us better basketball players, but first of all, better men. Is that bad? Out in life, well, it's tough. What he teaches applies a lot further than just to basketball."
When he left Ohio State, Knight was thinking of a career in law but gave himself a year to decide. He took a job as assistant coach at Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) High School. The following year he wound up serving at West Point as an assistant to Tates Locke, another strong advocate of defense. And there his temper, apparently his single flaw, bloomed.
"Bobby was a better player than many people think he was," says Locke, now the head coach at Clemson. "But I believe a lot of his success as a coach has come from not being as good a player as he wanted to be. I think he has calmed down some now. Then he was fiery. It was my first head coaching job and Bobby's first in college, and the two of us on the bench must have looked like a Chinese fire drill. But he never allowed a game to get out of hand."
Well, almost never. One year against Washington State Locke and Knight found themselves and the officials to be of different minds. By halftime each coach had drawn two technicals. When they went to the locker room, Locke discovered Knight was missing. Shortly, head on his chest, Knight walked in. "Come on, Bobby," said Locke. ''We have to work out how we're going to handle the second-half tip."