Coach Bob Knight was the keynote speaker Friday night for the 35th annual Governor's Dinner at the Governor's Mansion. If the legendary Texas Tech basketball coach could change one thing, however, he would quite likely prefer to be referred to as teacher.
"If I could put an occupation on my tombstone, that would be it," Knight said Friday during a press conference. "There are a lot of coaches who can't teach and a lot of teachers who can't coach, but I think you're trying to give kids something that goes way beyond playing a game at 2 o'clock in the afternoon."
Knight, 62, has won quite a few of those games, regardless of when or where they've been played. In 37 years as a college coach, he has amassed an 809-311 record for a .722 winning percentage that is the best among active coaches. Knight-coached teams have appeared in post-season play 34 times and have appeared in post-season tournaments in each of the last 25 years. He has coached NCAA championship teams (1976, '81 and '87 at Indiana), as well as gold medal-winning teams at the Olympic and Pan-Am Games.
Knight, who was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991, and Dean Smith stand alone as individuals who have played for and coached NCAA championship teams. The 6-foot-5 Knight played for the 1960 Ohio State championship team that included Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek.
Shortly after his graduation from Ohio, Knight became head coach at Army at age 24 -- the youngest head basketball coach in major college history.
One of Knight's recollections Friday night was the correspondence he received from one of his former players at West Point who later went to Vietnam -- as an artillery forward observer.
"At the end of his letter, he wrote, P.S. ... Your practices did more to prepare me for what I'm doing now than anything," Knight recalled. "I wrote back and asked if he was referring to the intelligent approach to practice, to see what his response would be. He wrote back and said, 'No coach. I was talking about how difficult your practices were.' To me, that was kind of a neat thing."
Knight took his hard-nosed, highly disciplined style to Indiana and won 662 games in 29 seasons, including national titles in 1976, '81 and '87. The 1976 team was a perfect 32-0.
The competitive balance of college basketball is a tribute to an abundance of talent, according to Knight. For that reason, he doesn't believe the recent shuffling of the ACC and Big East will have any major bearing in the future.
"As long as we have the number of kids who are so good, I don't think the rearranging of conferences will have any bearing on how the game is played," Knight said. "Basketball is just a more popular sport among kids now; I think it's taken athletes from football and baseball and you're seeing it more and more. There are so many kids who can play the game, everybody's decent."
The last two seasons at Texas Tech, Knight has guided the program from 11th-place in the Big-12 Conference to a berth in the 2002 NCAA Tournament and a trip to the 2003 NIT Tournament. Ironically enough, Texas Tech played its NIT opener at home in Lubbock and defeated Nevada 66-54.
And yet, here he was speaking Friday night at the Nevada athletic program's largest annual fund-raiser. Did he have any misgivings? Not a chance.
"That didn't bother me in the slightest," Knight said. "I thought his kids played really well. We were playing in Lubbock, which was a big advantage, and there were a couple of times I thought we were in position to break the game open, but they refused to go away. I'm damn glad we won."
This also happens to be the second time Knight has been the keynote speaker for the Governor's Dinner.
"I spoke at this same dinner 20 years ago and had a really good time," said Knight, adding that he has returned to the northern Nevada area numerous times to vacation since then. "But when they asked me to come back here and speak again, I figured either there are people still left over who thought I did a good job, or those people are all gone and the new ones thought they'd give me a shot."
Regardless, there's no doubt how Knight wants to be remembered by his players.
"I would hope they look back and think, 'That's the best class I ever had,'" Knight said. "I want it to be a beneficial experience, part of the foundation they're laying for their lives, and I like to think that the part of the foundation I was responsible for was sound."