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"Coaching kids isn't easy, but it's interesting," said Bob Knight last week during a hiatus between his daily passions of hunting quail and coaching his infant Indiana basketball team. "I really haven't been too hard on the freshmen about their mistakes, but there comes a time when you have to say, 'No, dammit! That is not O.K.' "
On the afternoon of Dec. 14, Knight reached the point of not O.K. with Lawrence Funderburke, the most dazzling of his seven magnificent freshmen. He kicked Funderburke, a 6'8" forward, out of practice five days after Funderburke had played his best game, scoring 26 points against Long Beach State. Before resuming the workout, Knight instructed one of his assistants, Joby Wright, to "tell Lawrence to get out of here and go eat by himself. I want to enjoy at least 10 minutes of this practice."
Though Funderburke, a standout at Wehrle High in Columbus, Ohio, was averaging 11.7 points and 6.7 rebounds a game, and though Knight had complimented his play and attitude, the incident triggered a chain of events that saw Funderburke quit the Hoosiers and drop out of school, Knight refuse to grant Funderburke an unconditional release from his letter of intent and a Columbus, Ohio, lawyer named William Fleck threaten to sue Indiana on Funderburke's behalf.
For nearly a month Funderburke was in deeper seclusion than Manuel Noriega—"in steady hiding," according to Fleck—but last week he emerged to tell The Indiana Daily Student that he left Indiana because he felt "restrained" in Knight's highly disciplined offense. He then told a Columbus TV station that he had wanted to attend Kentucky "since I was a sophomore in high school." And in an interview with SI, he charged Wright with "physical abuse" and said that Knight "was preventing me from transferring to the school of my choice." That school appears to be Kentucky, although whether the NCAA would allow him to play there is questionable.
Fleck says he has sent a letter to Indiana asking that Funderburke be given an immediate, unconditional release from his national letter of intent, which a student signs when he agrees to accept an athletic scholarship from an NCAA school. Among other things, it binds the athlete to the school for one academic year. If the athlete chooses to leave the school before that year is up, he loses one season of eligibility—provided that he is granted a release by his first school. If such a release is not granted, he loses two seasons of eligibility.
If Funderburke does not get a release from Indiana, Fleck says he is prepared to take the dispute to court, the result of which could be a landmark case determining the legality of letters of intent.
"Should Knight have veto power over where this kid can go to school?" says Fleck. "We say no way. Lawrence is no druggie, no alkie, no runaround criminal. He's just made some bad career decisions. Success with this suit may be problematical, but why would Indiana want to go through with it? Why not just let Lawrence go free? Equity is on our side. What Knight has done is wrong."
What Knight has done is offer Funderburke a compromise—something between a full release and no release. "I don't have to do anything for the kid," says Knight. "When he came in asking about a transfer, all that was mentioned was Missouri. I have no problem with him going to Missouri." In effect, Knight is saying that if Funderburke transfers to a school Knight approves of—say, Missouri—he'll give him a release, but if Funderburke chooses one Knight objects to—say, Kentucky—then no release will be forthcoming.
Funderburke is not the first Indiana player to find life in Bloomington unbearable. Knight's transplanted Hoosiers make up an honored roll call. Bob Bender, the new coach at Illinois State, left Indiana in 1976 to enroll at Duke. Mike Giomi went to North Carolina State in 1985, and Delray Brooks went to Providence in 1986. Two members of Knight's 1986-87 NCAA championship squad, Rick Calloway and Dave Minor, are completing their careers at Kansas and Xavier, respectively. The best-known Hoosier transfer split even earlier in his freshman year than Funderburke did. Flew out of Bloomington in 1974 like a Bird, in fact. His first name was Larry. Knight granted all of those players releases.
The difference with Funderburke? "Tampering," says Knight. "This kid has been tampered with since last spring."