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Knight has been reborn at Texas Tech

2/24/2005

Twenty years ago, they were saying this was the beginning of the end of Bob Knight's self-destruction.

Two decades ago today, the chair skidded across the floor of Assembly Hall, and it wouldn't be long before Knight was the country's coaching cartoon character. He was still winning fast and furious in those days, though, and that always smoothed over the rough spots.

He never did make it to the finish line at Indiana University, and that had less to do with Bad Bobby than with Losing Bobby. As long as he was winning, Knight told a writer once, he would be considered an eccentric. Once he started losing, he said, they would call him an embarrassment.

So the other night, an old staff member from his Indiana University coaching days was watching Texas Tech's overtime victory over Kansas, marveling over the Red Raiders' movement on offense, insisting this was the best motion offense a Bob Knight team had played in a decade.

He taped the game, scribbled notes and remembered the good old days with Knight before it all came tumbling down around them.

"You can tell the kids want to play for him again," the old Knight staffer said.

If you spent any time around those final one-and-done Hoosiers NCAA tournament teams in March, you could tell those kids were beleaguered and couldn't wait for the season to be over. Now, Texas Tech looks like the team you don't want to play in March -- long, athletic and precise, young kids getting better and better deeper into February.

At the end in Indiana, Knight was constantly using his players as human shields, dragging them into NCAA Tournament news conferences to defend him on allegations of abuse. Now, there's an eagerness to his teams again -- instead of the weariness.

"Those teams were just counting the minutes until the season was over," said the old staffer, now a coach in the Midwest.

Knight has recreated himself at Texas Tech. In his third season with the Red Raiders, he has a sharp, athletic and talented team, 15-7 overall and 9-4 in the Big 12. His recruiting base changed, and Knight has transformed himself with it.

Maybe he won't win a national title at Texas Tech, but he's going to break Dean Smith's career wins record on the full sprint. He won't be staggering to it, fighting off the residue of his bad behavior. It sure looks like that, anyway.

More and more, you want to believe that Knight has stopped his self-destructive ways. There were times, it seemed, that he inspired incidents just to see how far he could push people. In that way, maybe he finally has grown up. Maybe he has seen what it does to his reputation, to the people around him, to the loyalists who defend him to the ends of the earth.

As much as anything, Knight has a chance to go out on his own terms now. He wanted the Ohio State job over the summer, but his alma mater had too much turmoil to invite him back to campus. College basketball could've used him back in the mainstream, but maybe he's best tucked away in Lubbock, where he's helped create a serious basketball buzz and can now rewrite his own ending.

Of course, people won't believe it until they see it because history is history with Bob Knight. When things are going well, he has always had a penchant for blowing it all up.

In this season, though, with this bunch of kids down there, no one should want to see that happen. This is one of those teams you won't want showing up to play you in March Madness and, once more, this is the coach you don't want to see walking in with them.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj8@aol.com.