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Archive for Tuesday, March 19, 1991

KNIGHT PRESENCE OVERSHADOWS IU

March 19, 1991

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Somebody asked me not too long ago if I thought any team could possibly defeat Nevada-Las Vegas at the NCAA Final Four.

"Sure," I replied. "Indiana."

No basketball team, college or otherwise, is invincible, and Indiana excels at destroying invincibility. That's because of you-know-who, the only man in America who makes Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf look like a wimp.

Once upon a time he was known as Bobby Knight. Now he's simply Bob Knight. By whatever name, he's still the toughest, crudest, cussingest, red-sweateredest, uncombedest, pot-belliedest hombre east of the Wabash.

It's been four years now since Knight has won an NCAA championship so he may be due. I sure wish Kansas didn't stand in his path.

YOU REMEMBER Knight's last NCAA title, I'm sure. Guard Keith Smart hit a 16-foot jump shot with five seconds remaining to send the Hoosiers to a 74-73 victory over Syracuse in front of nearly 65,000 fans in the Louisiana Superdome.

That was in 1987, the year before Kansas captured its first NCAA title in 36 years.

Now Kansas and Indiana, national champs in successive seasons in the late 80s, will face each other in an NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1953 championship game. Indiana was coached by a man named Branch McCracken back then. KU's coach was the legendary Phog Allen. The Hoosiers won, 69-68, to prevent Kansas from capturing back-to-back NCAA titles.

But that was another era. This is now and, usually when Indiana advances this far in the NCAA Tournament, look out.

Indiana, under Knight, is perhaps as famous for its NCAA championships as it is for its first-round pratfalls. Last year against California pulled the rug on IU. In '88, Richmond shocked Indiana in its NCAA opener. In '86, Cleveland State supplied the surprise.

NOW THE Hoosiers have played two NCAA games without defeat and, notably, without controversy.

In fact, it's been nearly two weeks now since Knight's last headlines. Remember his rumble with Illinois coach Lou Henson? It was described as a "profanity-filled shouting match" that erupted outside the locker rooms after Indiana's 70-58 victory in Champaign.

The brouhaha was precipitated when Knight skipped the traditional post-game handshake and walked off the court laughing and waving to the Illinois crowd with seven seconds remaining.

Later Knight, who uses sarcasm the way Torquemada used the rack, mocked Henson in a five-minute post-game inquisition. Retorted Henson: "What do you expect out of Knight? He's a classic bully. His entire life is based on intimidation."

Of course it is. Knight even intimidates the Big Ten office, refusing to participate in the conference's weekly media session, ostensibly because his enmity for the press knows no limits. Or maybe he just does it because he knows he can get away with it.

WHATEVER HIS motives, no one can argue with the results. On the floor, his players perform his way or they don't play. Off the court, they perform in the classroom and keep their noses clean or they face a one-on-one session in his office.

The flip side of Knight, however, is that his personality makes him the perennial focus. His players never seem to receive any credit. Indiana basketball players are perpetually viewed as athletes of limited ability who owe everything to Knight because he goaded them to a higher level.

Knight cannot turn a wart hog into a race horse. That coach hasn't been born yet. Knight is certainly a great coach, but he has plenty of thoroughbreds this year, too.

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