Saturday, November 16, 2002

After raising school's profile, Knight readies for new season



By Betsy Blaney
The Associated Press

LUBBOCK, Texas - Bob Knight's first year at Texas Tech brought consistently larger basketball crowds and a national spotlight to the university.

And it's safe to say that few - if any - Red Raiders fans were disappointed in the outcome of Knight's inaugural season in West Texas.

Knight took a team that was coming off four consecutive losing seasons and guided them to a 23-9 record, third place in the Big 12 and their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1996.

Now, what will the Hall of Fame coach do for an encore?

"I would hope that it's a team that people enjoy watching play," he said. "Coaches didn't seem to be real anxious to come here and play, so that's always good. There are places I'm not real anxious to play."

The Red Raiders return four of last season's starters, losing only center Andy Ellis. The headliner is expected to be Andre Emmett, who averaged a team-best 18.7 points and was the only sophomore named to the Big 12's first team.

"I think that the fact that they've done what we wanted done for a year just puts them all in a different mental state," Knight said. "Kids that are back from a previous year have got to be better the next year. That's just part of the whole maturing process of the team."

Emmett is growing up, too. He's overcome a foot injury and has improved his defense.

"At this point, Emmett in our practices has more steals than anybody else on the team," Knight said. "He has greater awareness. He is a captain and has accepted that responsibility. I've really enjoyed watching him grow as a player."

Knight, who won three national championships in 29 seasons at Indiana, has kept his bitter departure from Bloomington in the headlines by filing a lawsuit contending that he was improperly fired. He alleges he lost more than $2 million in income since being fired. The school has denied the allegations.

The 62-year-old coach also is coming off surgery in August for an intestinal blockage.

It's quite a different tone from this time last year, when Knight's return to coaching was among the top preseason stories for all of college basketball. Everyone wanted to know if he'd mellowed during his time away or if he'd be as fiery as ever.

Aside from some minor off-court incidents, most of the attention he drew was for turning around the Red Raiders. They won 13 of their first 14 games, then in conference play knocked off Oklahoma when it was No. 6 and beat Oklahoma State twice, when the Cowboys were ranked 6th and 16th.

The expectations have been raised. Now Tech will try living up to them.

"There's no guarantee at all," athletic director Gerald Myers said. "You've got to start over, start from zero and hope you build on the success of a year ago. You can't take anything for granted."

Knight feels good about his new mix of players, which includes four freshmen and junior college transfer Robert Tomaszek, a forward who could eventually replace Ellis in the post.

"I've been really both pleased and impressed to this point with the listening ability of the younger players, the players that have just come in," Knight said. "I think there's a big difference between hearing and listening, and I think players have listened well."

Tomaszek played poorly last week in Tech's first exhibition game, against EA Sports. The transfer from Eastern Wyoming had three turnovers and fouled out after playing only five minutes.

"So he just has a long way to go," Knight said.

Center Mickey Michalec, who played only minimally last season and who recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee, has improved "immensely," been scoring well in practices and figures into the way Knight wants the team to play.

"It isn't like he's scoring baskets against Our Lady of the Harbor," Knight said. "He's scoring baskets against players that have been through this, beat a lot of good teams" last season.

Knight sees the team as a work in progress. Among his concerns are his players' lack of communication on the court and how well his post player handles defensive responsibilities.

"The experience we have isn't great, and so we're really working at that, to be fundamentally sound enough that we don't make a lot of mistakes," Knight said. "I would expect that a year from now that would be a strength for our team - inside defensive play."

Knight has done more than just improve the basketball team. He's also raised money for the athletic department by speaking at alumni events around the state and he's helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for the school library.

He's also caused interest in the program to spike. The school has sold nearly 11,300 season tickets and they have a waiting list for the 48 high-dollar seats along the sideline known as Scholarship Row.

"I don't think you could have a better chamber of commerce guy," Myers said. "He's more than a basketball coach. Bob's been great for Texas Tech, Lubbock and the whole West Texas area."




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No. 4 Texas 77, No. 16 Georgia 71
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