Peter J. Kaplan
8 min readFeb 6, 2020

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NEIL REED, LUKE RECKER, JASON COLLIER AND… ROBERT MONTGOMERY KNIGHT

— -THE GENERAL — -

Quinn Buckner, Scott May, Bobby Wilkerson, Wayne Radford, Kent Benson, Tom Abernethy, Jim Crews, Mike Woodson, Butch Carter, Isiah Thomas, Randy Wittman, Landon Turner, Steve Alford, Keith Smart, Ricky Calloway, A.J. Guyton, Alan Henderson, Damon Bailey and Calbert Cheaney.

What about Charlie Miller?

The 1959-’60 Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team stands alone as the only team to win a national title in The Ohio State University basketball history.

Coach Fred Taylor began the season starting two sophomores, Jerry Lucas and Mel Nowell who joined returnees Joe Roberts, Larry Siegfried and Dick Furry comprising the top five. An injury to Furry in the opening game against Wake Forest turned him into a Wally Pipp of sorts as sophomore John Havlicek came off the bench to replace him and never thereafter left the starting lineup.

The recruiting class of Lucas, Nowell, Havlicek and Gary Gearhart included another member named Bob Knight who could typically be found further down the bench. Knight appeared in 21 of the team’s 28 games, averaging 3.7 ppg and 2.0 rpg; he scored 77 points all season trailing the team leader Lucas by a mere 633.

He started two games in his three-year run as a varsity player.

In 28 games as a junior Knight improved his stats infinitesimally to 4.4 ppg and 2.8 rpg; as a senior playing in 25 contests, he recorded his lowest scoring and rebounding averages per game over his three varsity seasons, finishing at 3.2 and 1.5 respectively.

The Buckeyes made the NCAA Final in each of Knight’s last two campaigns, losing to Cincinnati both times, 70–65 in 1961 and 71–59 in 1962.

Just as Ted Williams — with whom he once traveled to the Soviet Union to fish and who was revered by Knight — made a lousy manager because he had little patience for those who couldn’t approach his skill-level, Knight became acclaimed as a coach because his understanding of the game far superseded his ability to play it.

It would have been instructive, teachable and exciting to be a fly on the wall during his Ohio State days. Was Knight liked by his teammates? Loved? Respected? Was he disliked? Hated? Dismissed either tacitly or otherwise?

Chances are his more celebrated compadres in those legendary hardwood successes greatly appreciated his tenacity and toughness in practices, in games and in general.

Taylor must have seen value in Knight; he kept him around for three varsity seasons and Knight contributed, however modestly. He understood the game, its nuances and his role in it.

He was a student of basketball and it was important to him. After all, his mother Hazel was an elementary school teacher. He was an only child. And graduating from college — on time — would never be in question.

Upon his graduation in 1962 with a degree in history and government Knight became an assistant coach at West Point (1963) under Tates Locke and two years later was named Army’s head coach. He was 24.

According to the late great Frank Deford, an iconic sportswriter, journalist and novelist who admired Knight and wrote about him in panoramic depth, he always wanted to coach.

He “officially” expressed his desire to coach in an autobiography he wrote when he was a junior in high school. The piece entitled, It’s Been A Great Life (So Far) targets coaching in the Big Ten as the loftiest aspiration and eminently worthy of representing his life’s work.

Decades later when pontificating on his dreams going forward, Knight’s one deep love was highlighted. “I hope,” he said, “that when I retire I’ll have enough assistants in head jobs so I can live anywhere I want and still have a place nearby where I can go over and help out and watch some films.”

Deford noted, “As much as there is such a thing, he’s a natural-born coach.”

“I just love the game of basketball so. The game! I don’t need the 18,000 people screaming and all the peripheral things. To me, what’s most enjoyable is the practice and the preparation.”

“My father was the most disciplined man I ever saw. Most people, they hear the word discipline, and right away they think about a whip and a chair. I’ve worked up my own definition. And this took a long time. Discipline: doing what you have to do, and doing it as well as you possibly can, and doing it that way all the time.”

“When my time on Earth is gone, and my activities here are passed, I want they bury me upside down, and my critics can kiss my ass.”

— Bob Knight

With a fiercely loyal tribal sense of heritage and tradition he loved all coaches and became the quintessential teacher-coach himself. Or coach-teacher. Or???…

On the team, on the court, time is frozen; it stands still. For coach Knight and many others with a singular, razor-sharp tunnel-vision, an unrelenting laser focus, this is how it is. It’s commendable and laudatory. It’s admirable and it’s a large part of what produces champions.

We’ll out-discipline ’em. We’ll out-tough ’em. We’ll out-fight ’em. And we’ll out-think ’em. We’ll be in better shape. And boys, if you don’t execute as planned, as we practiced over and over and over again…well, lemme tell you all bets are off…You hear me Goddammit?

Bob Knight won 902 NCAA Division I men’s college basketball games over 43 years (Army, Indiana and Texas Tech) the most all-time at his retirement and currently third-most behind his former player and assistant coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and the venerable and avuncular Jim Boeheim of Syracuse.

He won three national championships at Indiana in 1976, 1981 and 1987 and his ’76 squad is the last men’s college basketball team to go undefeated (32–0) for the entire season.

He took his teams to the Final Four five times (1973; 1976; 1981; 1987; 1992). He won the Big Ten regular season title 11 times. He won the NIT in 1979. He was the Head Coach of the United States men’s national basketball team and won gold medals at the infamous 1979 Pan American Games (where his unparalleled boorishness was on full display) and at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

He is the only coach to win an NCAA title, an NIT championship, a Pan American gold medal and an Olympic gold medal and he is one of only three to have played on an NCAA championship team and coached one (Dean Smith and Joe B. Hall, the others).

He has a treasure trove of coaching awards and is a member of both the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (1991) and the College Basketball Hall of Fame (2006).

He ran clean programs and he graduated his players. He remains “the object of near fanatical devotion” from many of his former players and Indiana fans.

But some may dissent. And vehemently so.

To wit:

Kit Klingelhoffer, IU’s longtime sports information director alleged that in the ’70s Knight punched and choked him over a news release which upset him.

Knight humiliated Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall near the end of a game in 1974 by slapping him in the back of the head “affectionately,” something he said he did to his players over the years. After hearing that Hall, a longtime friend didn’t appreciate it Knight noted inimitably, “If it was meant to be malicious, I’d have blasted the fucker into the seats.”

During the 1979 Pan American Games in San Juan, Knight was accused of assaulting a police officer before a practice while coaching the US Basketball team. He was later convicted in absentia to a six-month jail sentence but extradition efforts by the Puerto Rican government proved unsuccessful.

Early in IU head wrestling coach and 1960 Olympic gold medalist Douglas Blubaugh’s tenure (1973–1984) he was jogging in the practice facility during basketball practice. Knight in a profanity-laced tirade told him to leave. Blubaugh pinned him to a wall and advised him never to repeat his performance.

Knight never did with Blubaugh at least.

In a 1985 game against Purdue in Bloomington, irate about a pair of calls with which he disagreed, Knight received a technical foul. His fire fueled, he grabbed a red plastic chair from Indiana’s bench and threw it across the floor toward the basket where Boilermaker Steve Reid was about to shoot the resulting free throws. The chair landed in front of Reid. He was charged with second and third technical fouls, ejected, suspended for one game and given two years probation from the Big Ten.

Later Knight joked that he saw an old lady standing on the opposite sideline and was simply offering her the chair so she could sit.

Former Indiana player Neil Reed alleged that Knight grabbed him by the throat in a choking manner during a 1997 practice which was corroborated by CNN in a broadcast of a videotape of the incident.

Reed and Richard Mandeville alleged in a CNN interview that Knight once showed players his feces. According to Mandeville Knight said, “This is how you guys are playing.”

In 2000 Clarence Doninger who was Knight’s boss, alleged that he was physically threatened by the coach during a post-game confrontation.

It was alleged that Knight attacked assistant coach Ron Felling, throwing him out of a chair after overhearing him criticize the basketball program in a phone conversation.

In September of 2000 IU freshman student Kent Harvey told campus police that Knight grabbed him by the arm in a malicious and threatening way berating him for his disrespectful address of, “Hey Knight. How’s it going?” The coach admitted putting his hand on Harvey’s arm and lecturing him on civility and respect but denied that he was rough or that he raised his voice.

Two days later after what IU President Myles Brand considered the last time Knight would violate the zero-tolerance policy he had implemented at Indiana with him in mind, Bob Knight, aka The General was fired.

Two days after that when he became perturbed with Jeremy Schaap of ESPN during an interview which Knight had willingly granted, he chastised Schaap about his “interruptions” saying before abruptly walking out, “You’ve got a long way to go to be as good as your dad!” (Dick Schaap).

And the hits just kept on comin’. Over and over again.

We know about Neil Reed. He finished his college basketball career at Southern Mississippi.

Luke Recker, Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 1997 played two years for Knight before transferring to Iowa where he became an AP Honorable Mention All-American and a Third-team All-Big Ten player.

Jason Collier was the 1996 selection as Mr. Basketball in Ohio. After two years at Indiana he transferred to Georgia Tech.

High-profile players among many.

All of them, as in all of them are high-profile players.

Scores of the same caliber player stayed, some happy and others not.

Charlie Miller stuck around for four years.

Coach Knight’s W/L record speaks for itself.

So what explains the troubling and unsettling feeling so firmly lodged in the pit of my gut?

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in December 2018.]

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