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College Basketball : Knight: How Far Is Too Far?

News item: Bob Knight flips out.

Comment: How can you tell?

By the standards of accepted behavior, Indiana University Coach Bob Knight flipped out a long time ago, say shortly after the invention of the wheel. But even for him, this has been an unusual season.

The state of Indiana is reported up in arms after Knight benches Steve Alford and three other starters, plays six freshmen with center Uwe Blab, scores 12 points in one half and loses at Illinois.

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This follows a week in which Knight:

--Refuses to let Mike Giomi and Winston Morgan on the team’s flight home after a loss at Ohio State and makes them take another plane, with the cheerleaders and administrators.

--Won’t take Giomi to Purdue, after which Giomi rides to the game in a car with the team physician, dresses but doesn’t play as the Hoosiers blow an eight-point lead in the last 12 minutes.

--Leaves Giomi and Morgan off the traveling team to Illinois.

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--Kicks Giomi off the team for failing to meet Knight’s eligibility requirements, although Giomi has met the NCAA’s.

Before the season even starts, Knight refuses to attend the Big Ten coaches’ meeting and media day in Chicago, saying his absence is to protest alleged recruiting violations by a conference school. The alleged cheater is never named but is speculated to be the old Fighting Illini.

Knight threatens to turn over his evidence, not to the Big Ten but to the NCAA, which may be his way of suggesting that the conference isn’t interested in doing anything about it, anyway. Representatives of several Big Ten schools state publicly that if Knight does have anything, he should turn it over. In other words, put up or shut up. The word from Knight’s friends is that he has no evidence, and he does shut up.

What is going on?

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Knight finally addresses the question on his radio show. He says that if he were only interested in winning games, he’d just go out and buy players like everyone else. This is the first time he has even deigned to comment. After some games, Knight won’t talk to the press. After others, he’ll make a statement but won’t take questions.

Theories abound. They include:

--He’s Just an Old Fox. This one is favored by TV announcers and everyone else impressed by the example of last season. The Hoosiers struggled all year but then knocked off North Carolina in the Eastern Regionals and were within one win of the Final Four before getting themselves upset by Virginia. When Knight’s lineup last Sunday was announced, NBC’s Al McGuire and Jim Valvano said they knew how long Alford would stay on the bench, ha-ha. It turned out to be all 40 minutes.

--Olympic Burnout. Between coaching IU and the U.S. Olympic team, Knight has been working at his usual breakneck pace for the better part of two straight years. For most of last season, he did the two jobs concurrently. A couple of weeks ago, his mentor, Pete Newell, told him he looked tired. Newell says Knight’s reply was, “I’m always tired at this time of the season.”

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--This Is His Way of Saying Goodby. Knight turned down a million-dollar offer from CBS to do color commentary several years ago. There is one story that he stayed only because he didn’t want to walk away from Landon Turner, who had just suffered his paralyzing accident. Knight began suggesting years ago, after his second NCAA title, that coaching a team to the Olympic gold, a la Newell, was the only other thing he wanted to do in coaching.

One must include the standard Knight disqualifier. He makes himself such an inviting target for blanket condemnation, it must again be noted that he remains secure in his place as one of the most fascinating men in American sport. He has brains and guts and he isn’t afraid to stand for something.

Of course, whether this is defiance in the service of principle, or defiance in the service of his ego, is an open question.

Whatever, his continued and studied use of humiliation as a motivating force is reprehensible. Maybe, just maybe, Knight could find the man responsible for part of his team’s problems in his bathroom mirror. His use of his position and stature to institutionalize himself as the bully of the ages is an embarrassment to Indiana University, the Big Ten and the NCAA.

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That he has been allowed to get away with similar outrages, while showing only slightly more discretion for all these years, is a reflection of the world in which he works, where everything is forgiven the winner.

Notes Move of the week: After a thrown orange prompted Georgetown’s John Thompson to pull his team off the floor, Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim took the public-address microphone and told the crowd of more than 32,000 in the Carrier Dome that if anything else was thrown, he’d ask the referee to call a two-shot technical foul on Syracuse. And pointing to the section where his noisiest boosters sit, Boeheim added that if they didn’t stop chanting swear words, he’d ask for another two-shot technical. . . . Most delicate analysis of the week: USC’s Stan Morrison, who said that his team’s loss to 1-5 Stanford at home, with UCLA coming in next, was not the result of a letdown. It was either a letdown or a big coincidence. . . . ESPN color commentator Dick Vitale, during a recent telecast, on Al McGuire’s statement that he’d rather have a good little man than a good big one: “He must be walking the streets of Milwaukee naked! I mean, there’s no way! Would you rather have Patrick Ewing or a guard?”


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