When Lamar coach Pat Knight tore into his six seniors during a post-game news conference last February, his purpose was to motivate them to display more leadership, character and effort during the stretch run.
Only after the season ended did Knight learn his infamous tirade also had an unintended benefit.
The nationwide publicity Knight received the first few days after his diatribe helped Lamar's basketball program emerge from anonymity in the minds of recruits. Prospects Knight scouted this spring and summer were more aware of Lamar because of the rant, which generated hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube and appeared everywhere from Yahoo! to SportsCenter to Pardon the Interruption.
"Kids want to go somewhere they've heard about, that's a cool school, all that BS, so it definitely helped us," Knight said.
"We called kids from Florida, Indiana, California, Australia, all over. Wherever we call, they've heard about us and they've got interest. It's totally different this summer. The reaction we got wasn't, 'Where are you? Who are you guys? What conference?' When we called this summer, it was a lot easier. Kids knew who we are and were excited to get involved with us."
Lamar hasn't parlayed the publicity from Knight's outburst into any early Class of 2013 commitments yet, but the Cardinals have managed to get their foot in the door with a handful of prospects.
Shaquille Morris, a 6-foot-8 forward from Edmond, Oklahoma, concluded the summer with a scholarship offer from Lamar and a handful of other mid-major and low-major Division I programs. So did Mike Crawford, an athletic 6-foot-5 wing from Tipton, Indiana. And fellow Indiana wing Austin Torres also strongly considered the Cardinals before committing to Central Michigan on Tuesday.
Almost every recruit Knight has pursued this offseason has asked him about calling out his seniors. Although most kids and their parents have reacted positively to his explanation that he was trying to instill discipline in his team, Knight sees some benefit when prospects are turned off by his candor too.
What persuaded Knight to publicly chastise his six seniors was that no other tactic he tried seemed to be getting through to them.
Mike James was suspended three games in November for what Knight deemed "uncoachable behavior." Charlie Harper sat out three games after an arrest for marijuana possession. Four other players had to be disciplined after oversleeping the day of Lamar's BracketBusters game at George Mason.
Public tough love is rare in college basketball because coaches fear that if they don't coddle players, it will hurt recruiting or lead to transfers. Knight admits he wouldn't have had the courage to try such a tactic during his first head coaching job at Texas Tech, but being fired by the Red Raiders in March 2011 made him realize he had to change his approach if he received a second chance.
"The best thing about getting fired is it makes you look at what you did wrong and what you should have done better," Knight said. "I put up with too much BS around the program from players, administration, everything. There were too many voices. You've got to do what you think is right and do it no matter what. I think I worried too much what people would think if did something, and you can't do that. You can't coach scared."
The "under the bus gang," as Knight refers to last year's seniors, responded well to his criticism, winning their final three regular season games and blitzing through the Southland tournament before falling to Vermont in an NCAA tournament First Four game. Their departure means Lamar must replace four starters, yet Knight believes the Cardinals will be just as talented next season as last year's 23-win team was.
Senior forward Stan Brown will be the lone returning starter. Redshirt freshman guard Rhon Mitchell would have started for the Cardinals last season had he played. And versatile ex-junior college teammates Amos Wilson and Hondo Webb highlight a six-man recruiting class Knight expects to contribute right away.
Challenging Southland Conference newcomer Oral Roberts and guard-heavy Stephen F. Austin next season may be a tall order for Lamar, but Knight is not one to lower expectations entering a new season. Instead he prefers to challenge his players by saying the Cardinals are reloading rather than rebuilding.
Even if next season's team slides toward the middle of the Southland standings and doesn't meet Knight's expectations, the second-year coach promises he will not launch into another tirade like the one that went viral last February.
"I could coach another 20 years and not have another group of kids who you could do that to," Knight said. "It was that circumstance and that team. I thought it would work when you have that many seniors who are tough kids. Could I do it with this year's team? Probably not. I have so many new guys and freshmen. To me, it's about knowing your team and their temperament."
For more news on Southland Conference teams, check out Rivals.com.
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