Knight Time In Austin

Texas Tech's Bobby Knight is the only basketball coach, at any level, who is bigger than the game itself. But the hoops icon has enjoyed little success against Rick Barnes' Longhorns.

In the last seven meetings at the Erwin Center (three vs. Knight-coached teams), the Longhorns have a 7-0 record against Tech while posting a 14.3 ppg margin of victory. But if last season's series is an indicator, then an ESPN regional audience and a near-capacity Erwin Center crowd should be in for a thrilling 40 minutes of basketball -- and perhaps then some. The Horns edged the Raiders 74-71 in Austin last year, but the game in Lubbock was a barnburner. Texas won an overtime nail-biter, 62-61, in front of the largest crowd ever to attend a TTU home game.

Yet, the usually docile Erwin Center will be rockin' Tuesday not so much because a good 11-4 Red Raider team (3-1 in Big 12 play) is in town to face the No. 13 Longhorns (14-4, 3-2) but because Knight will be on the sideline. (Admit it. You want him to throw a chair.) The subject of both a best-selling book (John Feinstein's "Season On The Brink" followed by an ESPN movie version of the text), Knight carries rock star status into virtually any arena he enters.

"He's the one coach that if one day, and I'm still coaching and he steps down, he's the one coach I'd like to spend a lot of time with," Barnes said. "I've got great respect for him. He loves the game of basketball. It's obvious based on what he's done for it and how long he's been in it."

Yet, no small part of Knight's mystique is his sporadic volatility that resulted in Indiana University issuing a 'zero tolerance' policy toward Knight prior to his dismissal in 2000. So imposing is Knight that, last season, C Jason Klotz said the coaching legend "kinda scares me."

My first experience with Knight was during the post-game interview following a 77-65 Texas win in Austin on February17, 2003. Earlier that day, Knight had booted starter Andre Emmett and key reserve Nick Valdez off the team. Naturally, it was all the media wanted to talk about; it was the last thing Knight wanted to discuss. You could see the slow burn on Knight's face before he erupted: "It’s none of your g------- business. Let’s not worry about a couple of kids who didn’t play. Does anybody here want to talk about guys who did play?"

Knight was then asked to comment on Brandon Mouton's game-high 21 points, including his five straight three-point bombs during a 6:38 span late in the first half to break an 18-18 tie.

"Why pick out an individual?" Knight responded. "Did Mouton just win the high jump?"

After that, Knight refused to field questions from either Sports Illustrated or ESPN reporters but specifically (and politely) asked writers from both UT and TTU student newspapers if they had questions for him. In subsequent post-game interviews, Knight has been eloquent, witty, genuinely complimentary of Texas players and highly tolerant of what is undoubtedly the same 'ol questions from sports media.

So, is Knight largely misunderstood? Is the negative accentuated? (The question has typically been framed in terms of, 'Would you want your son playing for this man?') At the very least, the General may be mellowing with age and still brings an age-old wisdom to the court that Barnes still cherishes.

"I think, as coaches, we all change and we're all different," Barnes said. "I'm a different coach now than I was years ago. I think there's a side to Coach Knight that people don't know. I will say this: I've tried to study the man. I've tried every chance I've had to be around anybody who's ever played for him to pick their brain about him because I think he's fascinating. I think anybody who has stood the test of time like he has is remarkable."

Folks either love him or loathe him -- and that has included the fan base of the only two schools he has coached since 1971.

"There's an unbelievable loyalty that he builds with his players," Barnes continued. "If you're not the kind of person who believes in loyalty, hard work, discipline and singleness of purpose, then you probably wouldn't want to play not just for coach Knight but probably for a lot of coaches."

Barnes said the perception that Knight is either a bully or brow-beater is "overblown."

"I don't think he's any more like that than anybody who's been in this game coaching for a long time."

The winningest active D-I coach, Knight's 843 career victories is third on the all-time career mark. He inherited a 9-20 Red Raider squad in 2001-02 and turned it into a 23-9 NCAA Tournament team. Last year's 23-11 team also advanced to the Big Dance. Yet Knight is just 28-24 (.538) in Big 12 play. By comparison, Barnes is 76-25 (.752) in seven-plus campaigns at Texas.

The Red Raiders opened Big 12 play with a 76-66 home loss to Oklahoma State, and then rebounded to post wins at Kansas State, against Texas A&M and are coming off of a 78-62 decision at Missouri.

"I'm not sure there's a better offensive basketball coach -- ever -- in terms of getting the most out of his teams," Barnes said. "They shoot a very, very high percentage."

Texas Tech is averaging 82.5 ppg with a FG percentage of nearly 49 percent. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders are the only Big 12 team to have five players averaging double figures.

Senior G Ronald Ross leads Tech with 15.5 ppg but has been a scoring machine the past six ballgames. Since January 1, Ross has averaged 22 points while hitting 69 percent of his shots from the field. He has also connected on 69 percent of his three-point attempts and on 82 percent of his foul shots. Sophomore G Jarius Jackson is averaging nearly 14 ppg while freshman F Martin Zeno has been good for 13.0 ppg.

Texas has won 40 of 41 home games while Barnes is 12-1 against Texas Tech. (Texas' only setback to Tech during Barnes' stint was a virtually meaningless loss in the second round of the 2003 Big 12 Conference Tournament. The Horns were awarded a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tourney less than 48 hours later.)

Tip-off in the Erwin Center is set for 8 p.m.

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