Knight, Smith reach top taking different routes

Times Staff Writer

Bob Knight and Dean Smith share little in image or personal style, but their ideas on basketball often converged.

Knight, poised to break Smith's record of 879 victories as a Division I men's coach as soon as Thursday, once said Michael Jordan -- who played for Smith at North Carolina and for Knight in the 1984 Olympics -- described the differences most memorably.

"One time he said Dean Smith was the master of the four-corner offense and I was the master of the four-letter word," Knight wrote in his 2002 autobiography, "Knight: My Story."

"But he would always say that we had the same end in what we were trying to do."

As Knight closed in on the record, tying it Saturday when Texas Tech beat Bucknell, The Times spoke to three contemporaries of the two men, quizzing them on a series of superlatives that ranged from serious to jesting.

Jim Calhoun has coached two NCAA championship teams at Connecticut and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Gene Keady was Knight's adversary for many years when Knight was at Indiana and Keady was at Purdue. And broadcaster Dick Vitale has known both for decades, referring to them admiringly as "Robert Montgomery Knight" and "Michelangelo."

Best coach with a five-point lead and two minutes left:

* Calhoun: Bob Knight. When he had his best players, it was almost like they were in some kind of trance. I've heard other coaches say that. They played with such discipline.

* Keady: That's an even one. I played them both, and I want to say there wasn't much difference. Both were very well-organized, great strategists, with great players.

* Vitale: I want to be a politician here, but when you're coming down the stretch, a guy like Knight, he holds a lead.

Best down five with 20 seconds left:

* Calhoun: The greatest coach ever, down any number, put Dean Smith. I have never seen a guy able to manipulate the clock like that, at a minute and a half, two minutes, 30 seconds. Nobody else could make some of the comebacks I saw his teams make over the years.

* Keady: Probably Knight. I remember one time, we were up one, and he got it inside to Dean Garrett and he stuck it in.

(Purdue was ranked No. 2 in 1988 when Garrett's go-ahead basket with five seconds left helped Indiana to an 82-79 upset.)

* Vitale: Dean Smith, Michelangelo, for years was really, really great when he was behind. It was unbelievable, so many miracle wins.

Best judge of talent:

* Vitale: They were both recruiting blue-chippers throughout their careers. That was synonymous with Carolina and Indiana. But Dean could take a super player and get him to blend in and play as a team. People don't realize how difficult it is to have McDonald's All-Americans all the time.

* Calhoun: Dean could judge talent probably better than anybody. Michael was a name out of high school, but he wasn't like you have today. Dean took players and made them into much better players. And he also made great players into semi-role players. It was rare for a player to take over a game.

* Keady: Smith.

Best with less talent:

* Keady: Knight.

* Vitale: Knight could take even mediocre talent and get them to play their hearts out, to play to the best of their ability.

* Calhoun: Anybody who played for Knight instantly became better. He determined their role. I would say both could judge talent, and both could mold it. Steve Alford was a better college player because of Knight.

Best in a coaches' clinic:

* Vitale: I remember being a high school coach listening to Knight early in his career. I was absolutely in awe. So many concepts. He relishes those settings. Dean didn't like the public eye.

* Keady: They're probably equal clinicians.

* Calhoun: Dean is not as great a clinician, because he's a little secretive. He's probably most interested in social issues. I'd probably rather hear from Dean on social issues now.

Best at a booster club meeting:

* Vitale: I would give that edge without a doubt to Knight. Dean would rather not be part of a scene like that. Bob Knight can be hilarious when he's on a roll. He can rock the place.

* Keady: Probably Knight was the funniest at booster club meetings. I never heard Dean at one.

* Calhoun: No question, Bob is one of the most captivating speakers I've ever heard. I've heard Colin Powell, Mario Cuomo, Bill Clinton. Incredible. I put Bob Knight in the top five or six I ever heard speak.

Best NCAA tournament coach:

* Keady: I'm not touching that one.

* Calhoun: I don't really think you can pick. Bob Knight won three and Dean won two.

* Vitale: Two guys, five national titles. They're in the Hall of Fame. I'm in the hall of shame!

Best Olympic coach:

* Keady: There was the boycott when Bobby was coaching in '84 in L.A., but I would say equal.

* Calhoun: You're talking now about two great racehorses.

* Vitale: I mean, they both won the gold. How can you pick one over the other?

Best if he were coach of the Lakers:

* Vitale: Knight's not a guy who's crazy about the NBA, but if he were coaching the Lakers, he'd get the utmost respect from Kobe [Bryant].

* Calhoun: Knight. Put him and Kobe together.

* Keady: Smith. I don't think Knight could put up with their baloney.

Best if he were coach of the Sparks:

* Vitale: Dean Smith is such a teacher from within. I think personally he'd do a great job with the Sparks.

* Calhoun: You couldn't put Bob with the Sparks. You just couldn't do that. I think Dean could coach anybody.

* Keady: The Sparks?

Best behind closed doors with his team:

* Keady: Bobby.

* Vitale: I think that's where both excelled. They were masters on a 94-by-50 court. There's no way I'd give an edge. That's their greatest asset.

* Calhoun: Bob Knight. I heard one of his meetings once, at the Great Alaska Shootout. We were sitting in the lounge and could hear it. It was an hour long. I wanted to go out and play. It was so captivating, we didn't move.

I think Dean was so much tougher behind closed doors than people know, and he was much tougher at practice than you would guess.

Best behind closed doors with his university president:

* Keady: Smith with the president.

* Calhoun: They're both good in their own way. There's no facet of history Bob Knight can't talk about, and Dean is very good on social issues. They did share one thing: Both men, when they were coaching their own institution, Dean at Carolina and Knight at Indiana, there was no other institution in the world. Duke has that now with Mike [Krzyzewski]. Mike thinks there's one place in the world that has basketball and that's Duke. It was the same way with them. There are very few guys who are part of the fiber of the institution like that.

* Vitale: That's easy. That's got to be Michelangelo!

Best companion on a hunting trip:

* Keady: Knight on a hunting trip, as long as he doesn't shoot you.

* Vitale: That would have to be Dean. I don't trust Bob with a loaded gun.

* Calhoun: Bob. I don't hunt, but I'd like to be with him.

Best companion on a golf course:

* Keady: That's not even close, Smith. All those Carolina guys are excellent golfers. Smith, Bill Guthridge, Larry Brown.

* Calhoun: Dean is a very good companion on a golf course, but he complains a lot about his game.

* Vitale: I've never played golf with either guy, but with Bob's reputation for having a temper, I'd give an edge to Dean.

Best player each ever coached:

* Keady: That's easy. Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas.

* Calhoun: It seems obvious, but was Michael Jordan as good when he was at Carolina as some other guys? You could make cases for others -- [Sam] Perkins, [James] Worthy, Al Wood. I'll give you an example at UConn. Clifford Robinson was a good player at UConn, but he's gone on to be a 20-year pro. Khalid El-Amin was a great player here and part of six Big East championships, a national championship and two final eights, and he played one year in the NBA.

For Knight, Isiah.

* Vitale: Knight probably, I know, would not agree, but Isiah. Knight loved Quinn Buckner.

For Dean, Michael.

Best remembered for:

* Keady: I think for Dean, his multiple defensive schemes. He was hard to play against. And Knight, probably for simplicity. He would keep it simple, but his simplicity beat you.

* Vitale: Both will be remembered for doing it the right way, with integrity and no NCAA violations. They had certain principles that never changed. Their philosophy of stressing the importance of the classroom to me will be remembered for generation after generation. And they learned more in their 94-by-50 classroom than basketball. They learned life skills in pressure situations, work ethic, pride.

* Calhoun: I think with Dean, the word "program." He turned a team into a program. I think he was the first in my life I ever heard express it that way. But from the moment he recruited somebody until they die, they're a Carolina guy. They all come back every year, Billy Cunningham, all of them, are there every single year. And I learned more about the fastbreak from Dean than anybody.

I think Bob Knight gets his kids able to focus. I heard him say once, "Never take a shot unless it's in earnest." But Bob, I think, is known much more for his volatility than sometimes he is known for his gifts, and, quite frankly, for being as clean a coach as ever went down the line. All the various things, grad rates, NCAA rules, he is truly exemplary.


Times staff writer Mike Hiserman contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World