He came up with a riveting swingman named Carl (World) Wright. Never mind that Wright would be picked up for $366 in unpaid traffic tickets before one game, walk off the court after being taken out of another game and tote a six-pack onto the team bus after yet another. Had this been Bloomington, Knight would have long ago run Wright off into the limestone quarries. Bliss not only indulged his star's indiscretions, but he also let his Ponies wheel, deal and drop back into an apostate zone. Last season they blew into Kentucky and North Carolina and won, yet lost at Chaminade. Bliss had lost control of part of his team. SMU self-destructed in the tournament.
As the Mustangs unraveled, Bliss struggled to keep from reverting to the "wild, raving maniac" he describes himself as having been earlier at SMU and, before that, at Oklahoma. A quote from Thoreau over his desk—"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation"—kept him savoring the moment, for better or worse. A baseball nut, he began identifying with former Red Sox pitcher Dick Radatz as, "a guy who was going great and then suddenly lost it." Phoning friends, he would leave messages that "Dick Radatz called."
He admits he compromised with Wright, bending not just Knight's principles but also his own. But Bliss says now, "The kid's got a great heart. He gets people in the seats. And I can't show some patience? We had to try to meet the needs of the moment and subtly fill in what the long term necessitated." SMU made its splash, Wright is gone this season, and now Bliss can start over. "You're going to see more of a Knight-style team," he promises.
While most coaches show up at the Final Four to work the hotel lobbies, kibitz and perhaps angle for a better job, Bob Donewald watches the games from his living room, munching popcorn with his wife, Kathy, and their four kids. He is unique among former Knight assistants in that he's a product of Indiana high school basketball—South Bend St. Joseph's, to be precise. Donewald's commitment to man-to-man defense is Knightian. His aversion to profanity isn't.
For transforming Illinois State into a Big Ten-style, brawn-and-defense power in the run-and-gun Missouri Valley, Donewald has received job inquiries from dozens of schools, including Purdue, Wake Forest and Arkansas. But he has resisted their blandishments, just as he turns down many offers to speak and hold clinics that could further his career. There may be a time, but this isn't it. Donewald is constantly choosing between what would be nice and what is necessary. "Some people have a hard time understanding that," he says. "Without question, it may be costing me professionally. But when I come back from a recruiting trip and see my 7-year-old girl fast asleep, I have to ask myself: 'What contribution have you made to that child's life in the last 24 hours?' "
Four years ago Ken Bantum was a 6'7", 235-pound Cornell freshman who was so frustrated by the tough treatment he got from coach Tom Miller that he seriously thought of giving up the game. Miller wasn't altogether unfamiliar with his center's feelings. "Coach Knight didn't break your back patting you on it," says Miller, who played at Army before working, at Indiana. Last season Cornell was in the running for the Ivy title going into the final weekend before finishing third, and Bantum was voted Ivy League Player of the Year.
Knight once said that Miller was "the most optimistic person I've ever met." To transform attitudes far above Cayuga's waters, where the names of his predecessors—Lace, Coma, Bluitt—seem to suggest the recent ineptitude of Big Red basketball, Miller has needed every ounce of that optimism. "It was like culture shock at first," he says. "Everyone was saying, 'We want to be respectable.' I didn't want to be respectable. I wanted to win." So he put curtains around the court in Barton Hall, insisted on punctuality (the team jokes about "Miller time," which comes 10 minutes early) and had his players do kung fu to enhance their stamina and balance. "He forced me to make the most of my ability, which no one had ever done," says Bantum, who now considers Miller a friend.
Mike Hanks needs only one Chip Hilton novel to complete his set. Some 22 volumes, all except Comeback Cagers, fill a shelf in his home in Mobile, where he's beginning his second season at South Alabama. His first several volumes were gifts from his dad, Sherrill, who was a high school coach in downstate Illinois. "But when Coach Knight introduced me to [Hilton author and coaching legend] Clair Bee, they became extra, extra special."
That's how Hanks talks. He's 32 and married to his high school sweetheart, but still has a beer-can collection numbering in the 700s. "When I first met him, I thought that golly-gee stuff was an act," says Harrison. "But he's really like that." Hanks has been serious with the Jaguars, upgrading their schedule while weeding out the bad actors and those not interested in earning degrees. "It's important to have kids you enjoy being around," he says. "I enjoy the bus trips and plane rides too much."
Knight had warned Hanks that because of his youth, players might try to challenge his authority. But Hanks doesn't brook any nonsense. "If you show you deserve respect," he says, "you'll get it." From Knight, he continues to get advice.