In Bobby Knight's
office there is a red metal folding chair on which the Indiana coach often sits
while reviewing game films. The chair is of some sentimental value to Knight
because, legend has it, it is the one he used for sitting and kicking purposes
while guiding IU to the 1976 NCAA championship in the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
"I honestly don't know if it's the chair I used or not," Knight said
last week. His son, Timmy, is certain that it's not. "No," said Timmy.
"The chairs we used had all kinds of cigarette burns and dents. This one
looks brand new."
chair, a gift of the Spectrum, has served for five years to remind Bobby of the
night of March 29, 1976, when Scott May, Quinn Buckner, Kent Benson & Co.
completed a 32-0 season with a victory over Michigan in the championship
The chair will
stay in Bloomington this week, but Knight will be going back to the Spectrum
with a competent, if not quite great, team that has developed into perhaps the
most pleasant surprise of Knight's decade at Indiana. Only 7-5 against a tough
December schedule that included North Carolina, Kansas State, Kentucky and
Notre Dame, Indiana was such an uneven team that, one wintry morning in
January, Knight was moved to moan, "This is the worst hand of cards I've
ever been dealt."
So then all the
Hoosiers did was shuffle 14-4 through the treacherous Big Ten, winning the
championship on the final day of the season for the second straight year. The
Hoosiers did it with a typical February surge—Knight's teams are at their best
down the stretch—and with the cooperation of Iowa, which lost its last two Big
Ten games to blow the league championship.
Knight, IU's season began to turn for the better when Isiah Thomas, the
splendid 6'1" guard from Chicago, finally came to terms with himself and
his role—and with Knight—in late December. Early on it seemed as though the
coach and the star were engaged in a test of wills. At Indiana there has never
been a question as to who wins those battles. When Thomas finally decided to do
things Knight's way, the coach in turn gave him more freedom to operate in the
open court, to use the myriad passing and shooting skills that make him the
best point guard in the nation. Says Knight, "Isiah has matured
tremendously since Christmas in terms of the responsibility he handles on the
When Thomas came
around, the other players fell into line. The 6'9" senior center, Ray
Tolbert, a pussycat in December, became such a tiger that, Knight believes, he
was the Big Ten's most valuable player. IU's other big man, 6'10" Landon
Turner, finally began to understand his role as a scorer and rebounder. Burly
Forward Ted Kitchel and brainy Guard Randy Wittman shot well from the perimeter
and contributed mightily to the man-to-man defense Knight loves so dearly. The
result is that while this team doesn't compare with the '76 champs, it has
become consistent and, at times, sensational.
spectacular performance in an early-round game against Maryland at Dayton, the
Hoosiers came home last Friday to play upstart Alabama-Birmingham in the
Mideast semifinals. By tip-off time in IU's Assembly Hall, Knight was almost a
basket case. His team had practiced poorly. Once, Knight even had to climb all
over Thomas. Everyone in town, the players included, seemed to be looking ahead
to the final four. After all, wasn't IU playing at home? Didn't the Hoosiers
look just great against Maryland? And just what is an Alabama-Birmingham,
It was the perfect
spot for another big upset, or so it seemed to Knight, and for a while the
coach's fears seemed justified. Showing more quickness—and more heart—than most
teams the Hoosiers played this season, the Blazers used a tight zone and some
nice offensive moves to give Indiana all it could handle before finally losing
87-72. It was close to the end when too many fouls and too much Isiah finally
wore Alabama-Birmingham down. Taking charge after UAB's 5'10" Glenn Marcus
got into foul trouble, Isiah scored 12 straight IU points, eight on free
throws, as Indiana stretched it out in the last three minutes. The unsung hero
was the other Thomas, Jim, who came off the bench to give Indiana much-needed
quickness and maneuverability in the second half.
The next day
Knight stood in the Indiana locker room and gave his players a little quiz.
"You tell me a
team in our league that has more talent than UAB," Knight said.