- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

His critics said he was too old, too stubborn, too domineering and destined for quick burnout.

They were wrong. Bob Knight is relevant again.

The combative Hall of Fame coach is back in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament after an 11-year hiatus. He has rebuilt the basketball program at Texas Tech along with his own career.

Knight’s recent success has grabbed the attention of bigger programs. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported last week that Tennessee already has contacted him about its opening.

For now, Knight is enjoying the moment.

“I would have been disappointed that they would not have been able to go to the Sweet 16,” said Knight, after the Red Raiders upset Gonzaga on Saturday. “I would be out fishing, but I won’t be fishing now. I would have been reflecting on what a wonderful experience it was to be with this team.”

Knight has led Texas Tech to four consecutive 20-win seasons and three NCAA appearances during that span. The 64-year-old coach, who won three national titles at Indiana before his ugly exit, is building a power at the former basketball outpost.

“People doubted us,” said Ronald Ross, who had 24 points against Gonzaga, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute. “But Coach is definitely a great coach. Look where we are now.”

The sixth-seeded Red Raiders beat the No. 3 Bulldogs 71-69 thanks largely to former walk-on Ross, whose team erased a 13-point deficit. Texas Tech (22-10) will meet seventh-seeded West Virginia tomorrow in an Albuquerque Regional semifinal.

The Red Raiders are only in their third Sweet 16, including a 1996 appearance that later was vacated because of NCAA violations. Texas Tech became a Big 12 also-ran with three straight losing seasons, including a 9-19 record in 2000-01. It was then that the university made the controversial decision to hire Knight.

The coach had been fired a year earlier for his personal conduct at Indiana, where he spent 29 seasons, and was known for incidents like chair-throwing, berating players, boorish behavior — and winning. The last straw came when he grabbed a student who he felt had disrespected him.

Knight hadn’t won a national title since 1987 and hadn’t reached the Sweet 16 in six seasons upon his ouster. His 2000 Indiana team lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Pepperdine by 20 points.

“I stayed at Indiana six years too long because of the administration,” Knight said Saturday on Sporting News Radio. “I was working for an athletic director [Clarence Doninger] that didn’t know his [expletive] from third base. I ended up staying because of the kids that I liked and the people I did like rather than focusing on the real negatives there.”

His critics charged that he lost his edge and that his militant methods were out of touch with today’s players.

In his first season in Lubbock, the Red Raiders went 23-10 and reached the NCAA tournament. Texas Tech went to the NIT in his second season and returned to the NCAAs and won its first-round game against Charlotte last season. But it wasn’t until the win over Gonzaga and a berth in the Sweet 16 that it could be said Knight’s program truly had arrived.

And now the Red Raiders have an excellent chance of reaching their first Elite Eight in program history.

Knight is winning without the prep All-Americans who used to flock to Indiana to play for him. He is having success with low-level recruits. The scrappy 6-foot-2 Ross, for instance, had a 17.5-point average this season and has made 44.3 percent of his 3-point attempts.

“He is the best story I can remember in college basketball,” said Knight, who coached the 1976 Hoosiers to a 32-0 record and the national championship. “He had to go through a lot as a nonscholarship player, but he played through it in the beginning; he never complained. He is going to graduate on time with good grades. He is the prime example of using what you’ve got. There is no player that I have more admiration for, particularly when he hit that 3 [against Gonzaga].”

Ross may be a good story, but the Knight chronicles are pretty compelling, too.

Knight Timeline

1971: Leaves Army with career record of 102-50.

1972: Became head coach at Indiana at the age of 31.

1975: Unanimous choice for national coach of the year.

1976: Defeated Michigan 86-68 as Indiana finishes season 32-0, the most recent undefeated season in Division 1 men’s basketball.1979: Charged, tried and convicted in absentia for hitting a Puerto Rican policeman before a practice session at Pan American Games. 1981: Won second national title, defeating North Carolina 63-50.

1985: Tossed chair across the court during a game vs. Purdue, nearly hitting people in the wheelchair section.

1987: Defeated Syracuse 74-73 to win national title, the third of Knight’s coaching career.

1991: Inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. 1992: Loses to Duke in the national semifinals

1995: Reprimanded and IU fined $30,000 by the NCAA for an outburst at a postgame news conference at the NCAA Tournament. 2000: Former player Neil Reed (left)accuses Knight of choking Reed during a practice in 1997. Videotape is later released showing Knight choking Reed for 2.3 seconds.

2000: Accused of grabbing a freshman student at Indiana by the arm and cursing at him.

2000: Fired as Indiana men’s basketball coach.

2001: Hired as Texas Tech men’s basketball coach.

2005: Reaches Sweet 16 in the NCAAtournament for the first time since 1994.

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