Indiana's Knight of the Round Ball

Three-time champion coach liked the game better before shot clocks, three-point baskets

COACH Bob Knight has another Big Ten basketball champion at Indiana University, another team poised to enter National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament play with a chance to be what his Indiana teams were in 1976, 1981, and 1987 - national champions.

He has ridiculed his profession. When one of his favorite Indiana players, Quinn Buckner, became the new coach of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks last week, Knight said: "I thought Buckner was too intelligent to coach."

But since becoming the nation's youngest collegiate coach, at 24, in the spring of 1965 at West Point, Knight has stayed in coaching. He has won every championship available to him, every honor the sport can give, from coaching the 1984 men's Olympic basketball team, to being inducted into basketball's hall of fame in 1991.

His critics see his demanding style as detrimental to the game, to players.

But he coaches on.

Why is that, Bob Knight?

I don't know.... I've made a lot of money. How else was I going to be financially independent? I could have quit several years ago, if I had wanted to, and been able to live comfortably for the rest of my life. It has been a really good life for me.

You majored in education and history at Ohio State, not physical education. Did you always intend to coach?

I can remember when I was in eighth grade the varsity coach, Jack Graham, calling me to go scout a game for him. You're thinking, "Gee, will I ever have a chance to play on the varsity?" And the varsity coach called me to go scout a game. So, yes, I always thought I'd be a coach.

When you say there's nothing new in basketball, how literally true is that?

I think it is very true. The newest thing in basketball is the jump shot. I watched LIU [Long Island University] and San Francisco, two of the best five teams in the country, play in a film made in December 1949. They shot long one-handers, they dribbled left with their right hand, they shot off-balance, they threw up hook shots - nobody shot a jump shot. By 1954 and '55, people were learning to shoot a jump shot.

How do you honestly feel about [former Knight player] Quinn Buckner entering coaching?

I think he has the imagination and the determination to succeed that he has to have in coaching. Whether he has the fortitude to accept all the [aggravation] that he's going to have to accept, I don't know, because he's going to have guys making $2 million who can't play. That's what always bothers me about the pros: I'm looking at this guy making $2 million and he can't crush a grape.

Can you tell from watching a player whether he can play for you?

Yes, that and talking to the kid. And you make mistakes. You can't get to know a kid well enough when you're recruiting him to determine much. You don't know, for example, if he's really going to accept the role he has to.

Rarely does a kid have the same role in college that he had in high school. The kid we get is obviously the best player on his team - probably the best player in the city, maybe in the state. Right now, we've got all of these guys who, probably when they came here, envisioned themselves being as good as [All-American] Calbert Cheaney....

I look at a kid and say, "Boy, that's a kid I'd like to have." And I look at another and think, "He could never play for me." But he doesn't want to play for me. I'm not his kind of coach. To me, that doesn't mean that the kid is a bad kid, a bad player, or anything else. But when some people observe me, it's that I'm really a bad person because this guy says he couldn't play for me. I can't tell you how tired of that kind of thinking I am....

Your emphasis on team play has been criticized for submerging individual skills. How do you respond?

Our system - had Mike Woodson not gotten hurt in his senior year [1980] - would have produced three of the five leading scorers in the history of the Big Ten.... [Cheaney became No. 1 last week; Steve Alford is No. 4.] Our emphasis is on the team as a whole, but as we cut that up into roles, there is a role for a really good shooter and a scorer - perhaps more so here....

Is the game as much fun now?

For me it isn't.

But it seems to be very, very popular.

It's popular because people want to see home runs. They equate that with the three-point shot. They can understand that. They can see a kid get open. But they don't see the kid working for position, the ball reversed - bang, it goes inside and the kid lays it in. All they see is, "Oh, he made an easy shot." They don't see what all has gone into getting him into that position.

But they can see the kid hitting the three-point shot, and they get excited....

Hasn't [the three-point shot] done what you've always advocated - created a more open, fluid game?

I would be an advocate of the international [foul] lane, the trapezoidal lane, to get the wrestling farther away from the basket. The farther they remove the post man from the basket, the less wrestling you're going to have....

So it's a different game. Do you like it as much?

The [45-second shot] clock has taken something away from me. The three-point shot has taken something away from me. I'm not as good a coach as I was before the clock and the three-point shot. When we got ahead before the clock, we didn't lose....

It was more of a coaches' game then than it is now. What we have now is a fans' thing, and I'm not saying that is good or bad. And, yet, just the machinations of the offense, and the positioning of the defense, and playing from one game to another ... I enjoy it, obviously.

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