Saturday, January 18, 2003

Knight milestone tempered by ugly IU divorce

The Indianapolis Star

There are times when the state of Indiana and the whole left side of Texas need idle moments to heal. They happen often, these times, you see them in letters to the editor and hear them on call-in shows.

Many folks just want a respite from hints of "zero tolerance" and the gory details of how citizens of both states became inextricably connected through one larger-than-life man two years ago.

But reprieves never come easy when you're part of Bob Knight's world. And, in some way, each of us is a part of it now.

And, again, even as I applaud Knight as he approaches the most respected of coaching milestones, The General forces me to think about the ugliness.

That's the sad part, because Knight's career was more than that.

When his Texas Tech team takes the floor against Baylor Saturday, Knight will be just three victories shy of 800 for his career.

Even when you starting adding up the championships and graduation rates and the number of times he redirected some young man's life through basketball, the number 800 still stands out.

"Eight hundred wins is just mind-boggling," said Kansas coach Roy Williams, who recently hit the 400-win mark. "I don't know if I could live through 800 games, much less 800 wins. If somebody starts saying something about 400 wins, I'm going to say, 'Yeah, Bob Knight and (Tennessee coach) Pat Summitt have 800 wins."

Yet when Knight gets No. 800, the celebration will be tempered with memories of an ugly divorce between Knight and Indiana University.

Every sports radio/television show will have to mention why Knight didn't accomplish this milestone at IU. And if those shows don't mention it, many of us will be thinking it.

Regardless what you feel about Knight, he deserves better. Even if he created the reason for ambivalence through many of his own actions.

You can't argue with the coaching prowess.

Last year, in guiding Texas Tech to a 23-9 record, Knight did the best coaching job in America. This year, the Red Raiders (10-2) have been nationally ranked for the second consecutive season.

Even at 62, even with that infamous temper, Knight is reaching players and forcing them to reveal their best.

"I don't buy it that people aren't supposed to relate to his style," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "His style is wanting to win and wanting to make players better. That's just demonstrated by what he's doing now."

Here's yet another testament to Knight's teaching: Three of his former assistants -- Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Navy's Don DeVoe and Baylor's Dave Bliss -- have 500-plus career victories.

But there are many other similar testaments.

And, unfortunately, a single breakup that will remain in the public consciousness for years.

The great part is that the situation worked out for both schools, both states.

Whether you liked Knight or not, IU needed change. Knight's ample frame doesn't do too well on eggshells, and recruiting and winning had hit a standstill. Mike Davis has been perfect for keeping Knight's history of winning alive.

Texas Tech? Well, it needed to be saved in the worst way. Knight was just the man for the job. He commanded fan support and respect from the players - immediately. It was instant credibility, grainy video be damned. Knight's hitting 800 as Texas Tech's coach will touch souls.

Knight will break Dean Smith's record of 879 victories. He won't quit until he does.

And, again, we'll be forced to remember the bad times.

It's not the nasty legal battle or Knight's senseless silence about Davis' admirable coaching job that conjure unpleasant memories.

Weirdly, it's Knight's victories, the constant stream of success that won't ever let people forget.

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