Whether you support coach Bob Knight or player Neil Reed in last week's furor surrounding Knight's pressuring Reed to leave the Indiana basketball team, one thing is clear: Knight's rule-by-intimidation style is becoming increasingly deleterious to the Hoosiers' program.
It is not uncommon for a coach to become disillusioned with a player and suggest that he transfer. Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson freely admits that players have transferred because of his prodding. Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins, Wake Forest's Davey Odom and Kentucky's Rick Pitino are known to have encouraged players to leave too. But those coaches have not allowed such internal matters to degenerate into public spectacles. When Pitino showed Rodrick Rhodes the gate two years ago, he did it adroitly, praising Rhodes while making it clear that he did not fit into the Wildcats' plans. Rhodes transferred and had a semiproductive senior year at Southern Cal.
Knight apparently did not expect any fireworks, either. He summoned Reed, a starting guard for the Hoosiers in 26 games last season, and three other juniors, Robbie Eggers, Richard Mandeville and Andrae Patterson, to meetings after Indiana's humiliating 80-62 loss to Colorado in the first round of the NCAA tournament and, by his own account, offered them the option of transferring or returning with the prospect of limited playing time next season. But the situation blew up in a familiar spot—Knight's face—after Knight told reporters four days later that he had met with the players and that only Reed had opted to leave.
Reed, who says that he was already at the end of his emotional rope because of the tongue-lashings he had endured from Knight for three seasons, felt that Knight's words painted him as a quitter. So Reed went public, saying that he preferred to remain at Indiana and had agreed to transfer only because Knight had made it clear that he wanted him to leave. Reed says that Knight once wrapped his hands around Reed's neck during an altercation (Knight denies it, and the university says it will investigate the allegation) and that Knight's verbal assaults undermined Reed's abilities on the court.
Several teammates describe Reed as a selfish player who deserved whatever criticism he received from Knight. But it's a fact that Reed repeatedly drew especially vicious and obscenity-laced vitriol from Knight during games, and, as Reed says, "It's hard for a team to follow the person least respected and most criticized by the coach." It's also a fact that Reed's style is more gritty than pretty and that his tough, play-with-pain attitude (two seasons ago he saw action in 30 games while suffering from a separated shoulder) seemed to personify Hoosier hoops. And it's a fact that Knight endlessly tinkered with lineups and substitution patterns this season, producing a team that not only had an identity crisis but also crashed and burned, finishing with a 22-11 record after a 14-1 start.
Even if the play of Reed and the others had not been up to snuff this past season, Indiana's third straight first-round exit from the NCAAs suggests that Knight, whose teams have won three NCAA titles during his 26 seasons with the Hoosiers, is no longer at the top of the coaching game. The Reed episode won't cost coaching's biggest bully his job, but it will give top recruits around the country one more reason not to go to Indiana.
A Writer Remembered
Corky Meinecke, a sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press, died last week at age 44 after a 16-month battle with cancer. He will be remembered by his colleagues for his reporting skills, his good nature and his courage. And he will remembered by the Detroit Pistons, a team he covered for a decade, by the black armbands they will wear for the remainder of the season. In an era of antagonism between athletes and journalists, that says a lot about the Pistons and a lot about Meinecke.
Two Too Late
Last Friday night in Atlantic City, moments after being disqualified for a flagrant foul in his bout with Montell Griffin, Roy Jones—no longer undefeated and no longer the WBC light heavyweight champion—stood in the center of a crowded ring and shook his head. "A disqualification, I can live with that," he said. "Hey, they can take my title. The> took my gold medal too."