A Master Class in Balling with Bob Knight

Posted on Wed 16 November 2011 in Uncategorized by Alex Dewey

Photo taken by Jason SzenesMike, I'm very happy for you, but this green sweater you gave me makes me look
like a goddamn Christmas tree at the Masters tournament. I'm really furious.

Hey, what's going on? Since Aaron has taken it upon himself to try solve the lockout singlehandedly with some fantastic (if not fatalistic) journalism, I thought I could share some quick thoughts on Duke-MSU last night.__ I actually only watched the first half, but Duke's win over MSU gave Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski his 903th D-I win, putting him ahead of Bob Knight for most wins all time. This is of course an historic occasion for college basketball, as Coach K - for better or for worse - has been at the center of the college landscape for the better part of three decades. 903 wins is also an incredible accomplishment, and Coach K has done it in a way that has gained the universal (if occasionally begrudging) respect of everyone in college basketball. And he's a great Olympic coach, too.

Commentators have already covered the "Knight as Krzyzewski's coach and mentor" angle extensively, and it's all well and good. But what was great about the ESPN broadcast is that they got Knight himself to commentate. Knight's infamous and enigmatic personality was on display*, but it wasn't the main attraction. No, the real attraction is that Knight brought a true coach's mind to the press box. It's nice to get the perspectives of Jeff Van Gundy, Doug Collins, and Hubie Brown: They're all great, enthusiastic commentators, sure, and they all had some success as coaches. But Knight is an uber-coach, and what's more, he was a great communicator that had a keen eye for the crucial little details of basketball.

_*Knight joked about fellow commentator Jay Bilas' shooting ability in college: "I'd have let you shot-fake, but then I wouldn't let you shoot" Haw haw haw. __Knight made this joke five separate times.___

In this game Knight gave us some of these crucial little details. Knight - along with the great Jay Bilas - showed how MSU would use down-screens on set plays to get open, how great shooters like Andre Dawkins would have "all ten toes pointed at the basket, and their shoulders naturally follow." Things like that. Things like how the move to create space in the post is far more impressive than the ensuing dunk. Things that you pick up from years of watching kids succeed and fail, simple things that might be invisible to the viewer at home. It was a basketball mini-lesson on whatever came up. When you didn't see what Knight saw, you had a new thing to look for. When you did see what Knight saw, you recognized his gift for putting it into words, no doubt the product of a thousand timeouts and film sessions. Yes, a lot of us know about the triple-threat position and the value of driving, but last night Bob Knight brought a clarity to even well-worn facets of the game.

When Knight was asked at one point about his former West Point "point guard" Mike Krzyzewski, he said, simply, "I didn't know what a point guard was back then. He was the guy who handled the ball. I never figured out what a point guard is. No, but he was a student of the game, and a very good wing defender." I think that's great, because it shows in a few short sentences how Knight thinks of players: in terms of their roles, contributions, and character, not their presumed position, potential, or convention. Knight worked with the personnel he had, instead of the players he should have, could have, or would have. It's the common thread that binds all successful leaders of the hardwood. Coach Knight innovated not from rigid theory but from his fluid cast of players and their skillsets - obsessively tweaking and rehauling his style every year to meet his era and his recruiting class. Coach Knight's 902 wins form a great accomplishment that will never be forgotten. But even more importantly, Knight inspired his protege Mike Krzyzewski to do the same for his program with as much success.*

*Or, statistically speaking, with one more success.