Pat Knight is either the most honest man in college basketball or the craziest.
He is also now 1-0 after blowing up his Lamar team, the Buckley Amendment and the Enabler Coaching Handbook last Wednesday night when a low-profile postgame press conference went viral. The son of The General earned himself a battlefield promotion to at least Captain with a risky rant that shocked those who don't know what's going on at Lamar. (Which is to say, almost everyone. Lamar doesn't normally get much attention.)
After a loss to Southland Conference rival Stephen F. Austin, Bob Knight's kid ripped his seniors for 8 minutes and 48 seconds. The first-year coach of the Cardinals questioned their character, said he had players using drugs and called them "a bunch of tin men. We've got no heart."
Because his last name is Knight and his words were caustic, the video from that press conference got a lot of attention. It was discussed on ESPN and all over the Internet, most often in a critical manner. But as Knight told Yahoo! Sports on Friday night, there was a method to his madness.
"I'm trying to motivate these guys," Knight said. "It's risky, I understand. I'm not dumb. You can only pull this card once. If I have to look like a jerk and put my neck on the line, so be it. I want these guys to get the most out of themselves.
"They can go two ways. Hopefully it worked."
The short-term answer: it worked spectacularly. In its first game post-rip job, Lamar pulverized Sam Houston on the road Saturday night, 72-49. And the senior class that Knight berated responded with production. Mike James – who was suspended three games in November for being "uncoachable" – scored 30 points. Devon Lamb added 15 and Anthony Miles 14.
"We have tough kids who play hard but go back to bad habits," Knight said. "They can't handle success."
Indeed, Lamar's promising season had skidded a bit, with three losses in four games, when Knight went off. But after calling them out Wednesday, Knight was more conciliatory in his pregame talk to the Cardinals Saturday.
"I put you guys in a terrible spot," he said. "But I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think you'd respond to it."
After the emphatic response, Lamar is now 18-11 and 9-5 in the conference. In year one under Knight, the Cardinals are going to the Southland tournament for the first time in four years and have their most victories since 19 in 2008. A team that had a history of late-season flameouts under former coach Steve Roccaforte, a former John Calipari assistant, has a chance to finish strong.
Now we'll see how well they handle Saturday night's success.
Knight blasted right through the Buckley Amendment in his viral press conference and again Friday night with Yahoo Sports. Most coaches use that federal law, which is designed to protect the privacy of students, as a veil of secrecy to cloak how the sausage gets made in college sports. They brag about kids with good grades but claim privacy when the grades are bad. And they very rarely will discuss drug issues, usually falling back on the "violation of team rules" euphemism for someone who failed a drug test or got caught with drugs.
Not Knight. As he told Yahoo! Sports, every player had at least one F on his report card when Knight took over.
"Most of them had two or more," he said. "Two kids flunked out."
In January, senior guard Charlie Harper was arrested for marijuana possession and was suspended three games. Two guards were benched for discipline reasons. Four players missed breakfast on the road at George Mason Feb. 18. And even after that, Knight said players were still missing weight workouts in the morning.
That's why, when Lamar lost an uninspired effort at home to Stephen F. Austin, Knight went into rip mode. But this was no emotional screed; he told his assistants beforehand that he was going to do it.
"I'm going to call these guys out," he told his staff. "We'll take heat for it."
In three unsuccessful years at Texas Tech replacing his legendary father, Knight learned the hard way that being tolerant had its drawbacks. He's nowhere near as big a jerk as Bob, and part of that meant being softer than his old man with his players.
"I screwed up at Tech," he said. "I took too much B.S. I can't take anymore B.S."
Outside of the media, Knight said most of the response to his rant has been positive. Online player questionnaires were filled out by the dozens, calls and texts have come rolling in, and the administration has his back.
"My AD, my president, my vice president, they were great," he said. "That's why they brought me in, to clean the place up."
Even some family members of the players spoke up in appreciation.
"I had a couple moms thank me," Knight said. "I didn't get personal, I just told the facts. I don't take anything back. It's just the truth.
"If this wouldn't have worked out, we'd have to go to the fireplace and sing 'Kumbaya' I guess. We'd have to do something milder."
Mild can wait. Lamar is 1-0 after the rant, and Pat Knight looks more like a genius than a madman today.
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