Knight returns to Indiana for speaking engagement
INDIANAPOLIS – Bob Knight felt right at home in Indiana.
For more than 90 minutes Thursday night, Knight recounted tales from his coaching days, stories from the recruiting trail, lessons he passed along to players and, oh yes, even a new critique of the NCAA.
Just like old times, except this speech had some poignant moments, too.
“You know, I’ve always been a Kenny Rogers fan and I always liked that song where he says ‘You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run,”‘ Knight said. “I’ve tried to follow that philosophy, and I should have run at Indiana when the trustees and the administration had gotten too far apart and that’s probably as much my fault as it was theirs.”
Knight, who wore a green sweater, instead of his trademark red one, said he had been advised by three different people early in his career that he was too strong-willed to stay at Indiana forever. Instead of heeding that advice, though, Knight said he couldn’t find a better basketball environment and stayed right up until the moment Myles Brand fired him in September 2000.
It’s close as Knight has gotten to admitting he may have made a mistake in Bloomington.
Those who paid $50 for the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame fundraiser didn’t come to hear Knight offer regrets, they came to hear the man they still revere and Knight welcomed the two standing ovations he received.
“I’ll always take great pleasure in having been part of the heritage of basketball in Indiana,” he said.
It was a rare trip to the state where Knight was treated like a royalty, and it was his first public appearance in Indiana since skipping his own induction into the Indiana University Hall of Fame last month.
Before the induction, new athletic director Fred Glass made a personal plea to reunite The General and the university, to no avail. Knight said then that he didn’t want to distract from the induction of others into the Hall of Fame.
It may not have been the only reason he didn’t go.
“I would have loved to have seen him back for the induction,” said longtime broadcaster Chuck Marlowe, who writes to Knight on a regular basis. “But he explained to me that ‘You do know there are still reasons why I cannot do it.”‘
Marlowe was one of the friends hoping Thursday night’s appearance may open the door to getting Knight and the university back together.
“I think somewhere along the line, there will be a relationship renewed that will bring him back into a relationship with IU,” Marlowe said.
But Knight is in town on a business trip. He is scheduled to be an analyst on ESPN’s broadcast of the Xavier-Butler game Saturday afternoon.
The fiery coach set a Division I record with 902 wins at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech before retiring, winning three national championships at Indiana and the hearts of many Hoosiers fans with his outspokenness.
Before dinner, Knight took pictures with fans and signed autographs, and he spent much of the speech telling tales about former players, like Quinn Buckner and Scott May, who were in attendance and some, like former Army player Mike Krzyzewski, who were not.
That drew plenty of laughter from a loyal fan base that nearly sold out all the tickets in less than three weeks.
“He was very gracious and easy to work with,” Hall of Fame executive director Chris May said. “I think he’s very excited to be back with his old friends from Indiana.”
But Knight still lobbed memorable one-liners at some old targets.
He criticized a proposed tournament expansion to 96 teams, saying nobody should get a bye in the NCAA tournament.
He urged the governing body’s administration to require tournament teams to submit eligibility reports, an effort to assure that players who are competing in postseason games have been attending classes and earning acceptable grades.
“We’ve gotten into this situation where integrity is really lacking and that’s why I’m glad I’m not coaching,” he said. “You see we’ve got a coach at Kentucky (John Calipari), who put two schools on probation and he’s still coaching. I really don’t understand that.
“And very few people know this, but a kid can play the first semester as a freshman, pass six hours of anything and play in the NCAA tournament without ever attending a class in the second semester. I don’t think that’s right.”
Massachusetts and Memphis were both sanctioned by the NCAA for violations committed during Calipari’s tenure.
Knight did not elaborate or take questions from reporters.
Knight also said he was glad to be out of coaching because he no longer had to deal with poor officials or incompetent administrators.
Clearly, though, Indiana basketball carries a special fondness.
“There is nobody in the history of coaching who knows how hard and how intelligently his players played,” Knight said. “That was my joy in life.”
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