Knight has never been better

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

LUBBOCK, Texas – They had this fancy clock made, a beautiful trophy piece suitable for a grand fireplace mantle and befitting a grand accomplishment like winning 800 college basketball games.

Last Friday they decided to present it to Bob Knight, even though the Texas Tech coach generally isn't much for surprises, commemorative items or individual honors. His favorite pastime last season was downplaying becoming the fourth coach to ever earn 800 victories.

But Knight had gathered a few dozen friends here for a golf outing to raise money for Tech. Athletic director Gerald Myers figured there was no better time for a small, private honoring of the General. Even if no one knew how he'd react.

But a funny thing happened. Knight darn near cried.

"It means so much to receive this surrounded by so many of my friends," he said to a crowd that included everyone from Quinn Buckner to Bill Russell to Johnny Bench to his wife and children.

This is Knight in West Texas, as happy as ever, as relaxed as ever, as determined as ever. Perhaps even better than ever.

Season three of the Tech experiment begins next month with Knight coaching his most talented team since the early 1990s at Indiana. And there is no doubt getting out of the contentious soap opera that was Bloomington is the best thing that could have happened to him.

"I should have left five years before I did," Knight says, citing the change in campus leadership at IU that brought Myles Brand (now head of the NCAA) to IU.

No one who knows him disagrees.

"He's happier than ever," says Pat Knight, his son and chief assistant. "He's working as hard as ever."

The proof is in the results. Knight has changed the culture of basketball here on the South Plains. Football country is now basketball-mad, if only because, for perhaps the first time ever, a major celebrity has decided to call Lubbock home.

Sure Buddy Holly managed to get hisself born here. Ditto for one of the Dixie Chicks. But they understandably left to pursue glory. Knight came. And began raising money for Tech (millions for the library alone) and bringing positive attention to an easily forgotten town.

Take this year's golf outing. Knight brought in a herd of celebrities, which caused locals to flock to the course for autographs and entertainment. The idea of Charley Pride or Tom Arnold exciting the masses in New York or L.A. is comical. But here in blue-collar oil-and-cattle country, it is more than appreciated.

"Coach," said one fan as Knight walked off the 18th green, "I just want to shake your hand and thank you for everything you've done for Lubbock."

Remember that when Knight took over there was plenty of speculation that Lubbock wouldn't accept him, memories of grainy Neil Reed tape and tossed chairs supposed would turn off the fans.

It was also thought he couldn't win here.

Knight has produced consecutive 20-victory campaigns, and is enthused about his current club. Potent scorer Andre Emmet (21.8 ppg) is back for his senior season. Strong recruiting has produced a deep bench, which should keep the starters honest.

"We have better depth than we've had," Knight says. "Now we can put in guys who will really defend. Emmet has the potential to be an All-American."

Not that he's satisfied. With all the former players on hand, Knight smartly scheduled visits for four touted-recruits. Friday morning, before the golf outing began, he held a meeting with his staff and went over every detail of the trips – from dinner plans to pick-up games to the route the recruits would be driven in from the airport.

Nothing was left to chance, which may be why two of them verbally committed just days later.

He spent the rest of Friday playing golf with friends and boosters in front of a decent-sized gallery that followed his every swing. He did a television show with Arnold. He signed autographs, posed for pictures and slapped guys on the back. He smiled and laughed a lot. He looked at home.

This is Knight in Texas. Knight at 62. Knight a long way from Indiana. He may never get a fourth national title, but with a surging program he's barreling toward Dean Smith's all-time win mark of 879.

And, for once, he may be content enough to acknowledge what an accomplishment that could be.

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