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SPORTS: Even a Knight detractor can find reasons to miss him

December 18, 2006

I have a close friend with whom I can discuss amicably any subject under the sun.

Except one: Bob Knight.

My pal considers the hiring of Knight one of the greatest deeds in the history of Indiana University, and the firing of Knight one of its worst.

He believes former IU President Myles Brand is the devil and former Athletic Director Clarence Doninger was an incompetent boob.

My friend traces virtually all of IU's athletic and academic shortcomings to that September 2000 day when Knight was dismissed.

On these points, my friend and I have agreed to disagree, though that does not prevent the subject from occasionally rising to the surface.

Certainly, I'm aware my friend's feelings are shared by a significant number of people. All one has to do is notice the Texas Tech hats and decals that still can be seen throughout Indiana.

Long before Knight got the ax-or, should I say, finally caused it to fall on his own neck-I offered the written and verbal opinion that if Knight did not leave Bloomington on his own terms, it would be one of the nastiest, bloodiest divorces in intercollegiate athletic history.

That is precisely how it played out.

To some extent, the reverberations still are being felt, all the way to the top of the university hierarchy. Some are convinced loyalty to Knight affected the hiring of the current IU president and might factor into who will or won't be the next president.

Many of you know how I feel about Knight's tenure since I often published those opinions. Without rehashing or trying to reignite the debate, let's just say I ultimately came to believe Knight did more damage to the university than he did great things for the university.

So where is all this going?

Sometime in the upcoming week, Knight should coach his Red Raiders to a victory that will push him past the University of North Carolina's Dean Smith and make him the winningest coach in college basketball history.

And to that I say, good for him. Bravo. Congratulations.

Seriously.

In some ways I actually miss Knight, although not enough to want to see him on the Assembly Hall sidelines again.

But I do miss the motion offense. The moving, the screening away from the ball, the shot fakes, the bounce passes. I miss how the Hoosiers could fly from one end to the other on a fast break and the ball would never touch the floor.

I miss Quinn Buckner and Bobby Wilkerson picking up opponents in Martinsville and guarding them all the way to Bedford.

I miss Kent Benson's hook shot. A lost art.

I miss how Knight turned that '81 team loose with Ray Tolbert and Landon Turner absolutely dominating play inside and Isiah Thomas being, well, Isiah Thomas.

I miss how Knight could, when need be, do way more with way less-case in point, the '84 victory over Michael Jordan and North Carolina in the NCAA regional in Atlanta, where Dan Dakich shut down Jordan. Repeat, Dan Dakich shut down Michael Jordan.

I miss how, through the early '90s, Indiana might lose, but it would never be outcoached. I recall, on the eve of the '87 National Semifinals in New Orleans, seeing UNLV's Jerry Tarkanian staggering down Bourbon Street at 2 in the morning, and remarking to my friends that, if Knight was still awake, it was because he was looking at game film.

I miss watching players steadily improve from Year One to Year Four, instead of seeing them go the other way, a la Bracey Wright.

And, yes, I do miss the discipline-when it was reasonably dispensed-that was sadly lacking in the Mike Davis era, but seems to be quickly returning under Kelvin Sampson.

I won't go into the lengthy litany of things from the Knight era at IU that I don't miss. They're all in the newspaper archives. And while it is easy to cast Brand and Doninger as the ultimate villains, they were forced to clean up a mess created by abdication of responsibility over many years and incidents.

But, yes, as Knight breaks the record, he deserves congratulations. He was a coaching wunderkind at Army who evolved into a genius at Indiana. Other than a Sweet Sixteen trip, he's performed no miracles at Texas Tech but, then again, it's Texas Tech.

Still, in his prime, if I had to choose one coach to win one game, it would have been Robert Montgomery Knight. That he will win a record 880-and then some more-is an extraordinary achievement that cannot be diminished by even his most ardent critics.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column,go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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