It's Knight-Time in NLR

Arkansas (8-1) hosts Texas Tech (8-3) and legendary coach Bobby Knight Saturday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. at North Little Rock's Alltel Arena in a game that will be televised by ARSN in Arkansas and by ESPN in the other 49 states.

AYETTEVILLE — Back home for a few days in late November, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson thought he'd drop by his alma mater and catch a basketball game. Texas-El Paso had Texas Tech on the schedule that night.

After watching the Red Raiders drill the Miners by 17 points, Richardson poked his head into the Texas Tech locker room. Bobby Knight, then six victories from snapping Dean Smith's all-time wins record, smiled and waved in Richardson.

Knight doesn't do much talking these days about his march toward becoming college basketball's most successful coach in history. Newspaper reporters in Lubbock rarely get even a snippet from Knight about the milestone.

But on the evening of Nov. 25, as the minutes crept toward midnight, two old friends chatted away. And, of course, Richardson just had to ask about Knight's upcoming achievement.

"You're getting close, man," Richardson said.

Knight bluntly snapped back, "I don't even think about that crap."

Well, even with Knight dismissing the mark's importance, the rest of the nation sure does.

Knight, the former coach at Army and Indiana, seeks his 878th victory when the Red Raiders (8-3) take on Arkansas (8-1) today in North Little Rock. He needs two more wins to tie Smith's record, three to break it.

And, if Knight had his way, no one would waste their time talking about him.

During one of the precious times he addressed the record, Knight refused to look at it as vindication of his own ability. Knight, who won two national championships at Indiana, praised his players. And, his longevity.

"I think it will mean that I've coached a hell of a long time," Knight said last week in a teleconference. "And I think that the number of games (won) that goes beyond what's normal means that you've had a lot of really good players."

The former North Carolina coach whose record Knight will snap vehemently disagreed.

What makes Knight special, Smith said, is his off-the-court influence.

Smith recalled a recruiting battle he lost to Knight, who has gone on to post just two losing seasons.

"I said, 'You better not go in there. They don't like you,'" Smith said at a rare press conference last week in Chapel Hill, N.C., the town of the Tar Heels and their home, nicknamed the "Dean Dome."

"The next thing I know, he calls me and said (the family) quickly changed their mind. He's really sensational in the home. I was there first and he got him."

The interest is so high in Knight not just because of his coaching legend. Simply put, he's as polarizing as any coach in any sport — college or professional.

His fiery antics and run-ins with players and students finally resulted in his dismissal from Indiana in 2000. He emerged two seasons later in Lubbock with a renewed sense of purpose.

Knight's son, Pat, joined his father at Texas Tech after one season as an assistant at Akron under Dan Hipsher, now an assistant at Arkansas.

Hipsher has known the Knight family for nearly two decades, stemming from connections through a coaching collegue of Hipsher's at Dayton.

If Knight heard Hipsher talking about him, he'd surely get embarrassed. He'd probably tell Hipsher to shut up. But he wasn't there.

"He's a phenomenal coach," Hipsher said. "He's highly intelligent. He's a great speaker. He's got a great mind for the game, and he's coach's coach. Coaches just look at him and know he can coach his team.

"To win games for that long and coach that well, that's impressive."


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