Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bob Knight, Rock Star

The New York Times
Published: October 22, 2006

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oct. 19 — Sitting with his teammate A. J. Abrams less than five feet from Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight, the highly regarded Texas freshman Kevin Durant marveled at the nearby crowd.

At a table to Durant’s right, about 50 members of the news media encircled Knight during his appearance Thursday at the Big 12 Conference men’s basketball media day at the Cox Convention Center.

Knight spoke with his usual saltiness about a variety of subjects, including the World Series and his wish that the 3-pointer be eliminated. He even offered an impression of Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky coach.

Knight’s 50-minute session drew frequent laughter and a crowd so densely packed that Aaron Bruce, a junior guard for Baylor, could not wedge his video camera into the throng.

“He’s a basketball rock star,” Durant, 18, said of Knight. “I wanted to go over there and listen. I heard he had some nice stories.”

Dressed in a green pullover sweater and a yellow long-sleeved shirt with dark slacks and brown loafers, the often-cantankerous Knight, who will turn 66 on Oct. 25, recounted how he was paid $4,600 to teach and to coach junior varsity basketball at an Ohio high school and how he once declared that he would not coach beyond 37 seasons.

But now, after 40 turbulent years of coaching, he needs 11 victories to break the N.C.A.A. record of 879 set by Dean Smith of North Carolina. Knight has a record of 869-350 (a .713 winning percentage) in 40 seasons at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech, ranking him third in victories behind Smith and Rupp (876).

Knight has coached more seasons than any other active N.C.A.A. Division I basketball coach. He is tied with Jim Boeheim of Syracuse for most 20-victory seasons (28) and is 105-61 in his five years at Texas Tech after being fired in 2000 by Indiana, where he had coached since 1971 and won three national titles.

“To do what he has done in different times is impressive,” Baylor Coach Scott Drew said. “It shows that he’s been able to adjust to different trends as far as society goes and different innovations in the game. He’s led to a lot of that.”

Texas Tech is picked to finish sixth in the Big 12, according to the preseason coaches poll. Kansas was picked first, followed by Texas A&M.

Knight’s Red Raiders return four starters, including the senior guard Jarrius Jackson, who led the conference in scoring last season at 20.5 points a game, and four of their top six scorers.

Texas Tech plays 14 nonconference games before January, giving Knight an opportunity to pass Smith before the end of this year. Seven of those games are home at rowdy United Spirit Arena, where the Red Raiders were 12-4 last season. Using self-deprecating humor, Knight, his hair white and his complexion ruddy, has played down his approach to Smith’s record.

“There are records of ability and records of longevity,” Knight said. “I wish I had some kind of record because of ability rather than longevity.”

After a trip to the Round of 16 in 2005, Texas Tech’s season was a disappointing 15-17 over all and 6-10 in the conference last season. It was just the second time a Knight team finished with a losing record.

“I think I did a poor job of assessing the talent that we had available and what we lost,” Knight said. “We lost more than I thought we did. We weren’t as good as I thought we could be.”

To be a legitimate contender in the revamped Big 12, which has six new coaches this season, Texas Tech will need to improve on the road and against quality opponents. Last season, the Red Raiders were 2-9 in away games and failed to beat a top-25 team (0-7).

“There’s not added pressure because of the record,” Jackson said. “I look at it as more of a challenge, really. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be exciting, and we’re going to get a lot of attention from it.”

A preseason all-American pick by various publications, Jackson topped the Big 12 in 3-point shooting (44.8 percent), free throws made (152) and minutes played (38.38 a game) in 2005.

A native of Monroe, La., Jackson, who is 6 feet 1 inch and 185 pounds, scored more than 20 points 18 times last season, highlighted by a 41-point game against Nebraska.

“He’s a guy that can take over a game in a lot of different ways,” Colorado Coach Ricardo Patton said of Jackson. “He has what it takes to play at the next level.”

But despite Jackson’s offensive prowess as a junior, Knight said he was expecting more than offense from him this season.

“The key to him being a truly outstanding player will be his defensive play,” Knight said. “He has been a very, very good offensive player all the time in the three years he has played for us. I want to see him be as complete a guard as there is anywhere in the country.”

No matter what happens this season, Knight is not planning to leave Texas Tech anytime soon. He has agreed to a three-year contract extension through 2012 for $300,000 annually with a guaranteed $600,000 in outside income, Texas Tech Athletic Director Gerald Myers said.

The new deal must be approved by the university’s board of regents, said the Texas Tech men’s basketball spokesman, Randy Farley.

In a telephone interview, Myers said of Knight: “He’s exceeded any expectations we’ve had how this program would have done so quickly under him. He’s still got energy. He’s still got drive.
He’s still got his enthusiasm for coaching. I think in some ways he has mellowed, though.”

Texas Tech’s players may not agree that Knight is more docile, but he is seemingly a long way from giving up basketball for more fishing, hunting and golf.

“I have no decision whatsoever in mind about how long I’m going to coach,” Knight said.

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