Helen Leugers walked into her daughter's living room in
Springfield, Ohio, on Sept. 11, 1995, and sized up the Indiana
coach who had come to recruit her grandson Jason Collier.
Leugers covered Bob Knight's mouth with her palm and asked, "Why
do so many filthy words come out of here?"
Knight began to blush but recovered smoothly. "Mrs. Leugers, I
don't think God will frown on me for what I say to fine young
men like your grandson," he said. "I think he'll smile on me for
what I do to help them." Then Knight invited Leugers to sit
beside him on the couch. He pulled out a map of the college
basketball landscape, which he had drawn himself. It had a
skewed scale similar to one of those Saul Steinberg posters in
which New York City is the center of the world, only in this one
the trip between Bloomington, Ind., and Springfield looked like
walking distance. Meanwhile, Knight's recruiting competition in
places like Atlanta, Durham and Chapel Hill might as well have
been in Nepal.
Then Leugers asked, "Why does it matter how close we are to
Bloomington since the games are all sold out anyway?"
"Ma'am," Knight said, "if you can't get a ticket, I'll let you
sit on the bench beside me, and you can elbow me whenever I get
out of line."
December 9, 1996
Helen turned to her husband, Joe, and whispered, "Now I know
we'll never have a problem getting tickets." Jason Collier was a
Hoosier from that moment on.
This encounter is noteworthy because it shows how, after several
lackluster recruiting classes, Knight has gotten back out on the
hustings to rebuild his grassroots support. Hoosier assistant
Dan Dakich told the Collier family that the pursuit of Jason was
Knight's most zealous courtship of a recruit in Dakich's 12-year
tenure in Bloomington. Knight even cut short an overseas fishing
trip to scout Collier at Howard Garfinkel's Five-Star camp in
By all accounts Knight had grown weary of his program's recent
mediocrity--including first-round NCAA tournament flameouts the
last two seasons and a third-round exit the year before
that--and his renewed spirit began to pay dividends last Friday
night when Indiana defeated Duke 85-69 to win the Chase NIT at
Madison Square Garden in New York City. In the championship game
junior forward Andrae Patterson exploded for 39 points, Knight's
precocious freshman class controlled the perimeter, and Indiana
collected perhaps its most significant victory since making the
Final Four in '92.
On the night before his Hoosiers lost to Boston College in the
NCAA tournament opener last March in Orlando, Knight admitted to
a group of friends that he had slipped into the same trap that
had snagged him in the mid-'80s: He simply did not have enough
talent to win a Big Ten championship, and an NCAA title was out
of the question. His response a decade ago was to recruit Keith
Smart and Dean Garrett from the junior college ranks as a quick
fix, and in their first season with Indiana, in 1987, Knight won
his third national title on Smart's buzzer-beater against
Syracuse. Knight's answer this time was to rededicate himself to
recruiting outstanding freshmen.
On Nov. 11, during an annual booster club meeting at a
restaurant in Starlight, Ind., Knight had just finished
delivering his preseason State of the Hoosiers address when a
woman in the back of the room asked, "Coach Knight, we'd like to
know if we can expect another national championship before you
"Well, I'd be all in favor of that," Knight said. "But what the
hell are you doing here tonight? If you were a true Indiana fan,
you and your husband would see fit to present me with a seven-
foot-two center who can run and shoot."
Until that conception occurs, Knight will settle for the
seven-foot Collier, the best Indiana recruit at center since
Kent Benson came to Bloomington more than two decades ago.
Knight also harvested three talented guards--A.J. Guyton,
Michael Lewis and Luke Jimenez--in this year's crop and already
has a signed letter of intent from one of the nation's top
shooting guards, Luke Recker of Waterloo, Ind., for next season.
With these proficient youths in the fold, Knight's critical
challenge this season was to bring out the potential in
Patterson, his most gifted player. For two years Knight has been
a human bellows, working to ignite a flame in his underachieving
forward, who has at times played like he's on fire but more
often has been just a smoldering ember. "Patterson is one of the
most interesting kids I've ever had here," Knight said before
the season. "He has always had an ability to determine when he's
tired, and then [he figures] not as much is expected of him. His
concentration slides. His effort slides. In a test of skills
Patterson would test high. We've got to be able to test him in
these other areas and get the same score."
Patterson is an Air Force brat, the product of a strict yet
soft-spoken military upbringing. He was taught how to play
basketball by his older brother Rodney in a tiny gym at Keflavik
Air Force Base in Iceland. Patterson also lived in Turkey,
Minnesota, California and Georgia before finally settling as a
fifth-grader in Abilene, Texas, smack dab on the western end of
the Bible Belt. A devout Christian and a talented gospel singer,
Patterson has been singing baritone back home in a group called
Harmony in Motion for the past five years. He is known to be
such a mild-mannered young man that many of his neighbors in
West Texas were worried when he announced he would play for the
volatile Knight. Several of them even mailed letters to him and
to the local Abilene newspaper strongly suggesting that he
Patterson arrived in Bloomington as a first-team Parade
All-America after averaging 27.3 points a game at Cooper High in
Abilene. But he struggled as a freshman, averaging slightly more
than seven points in 19 minutes per game. His inconsistent play
continued as a sophomore. Seventeen times in 31 games last
season he scored four or fewer field goals. For the season
Patterson averaged 11.3 points, 2.3 turnovers and roughly 2.3
Knight tirades per game. "Coach is trying to get me to be like
him on the basketball court," Patterson says. "Off the court I'm
laid-back, but he says that on the court I need to be a warrior."
He was Genghis Khan for two nights last week in New York.
Patterson buoyed a disheveled Indiana offense in the semifinal
game against Evansville, finally clinching the 74-73 victory
with a 10-foot baseline jumper as the buzzer sounded. Knight was
not impressed. He had arrived in New York with tickets to Master
Class, a Broadway show about opera star Maria Callas, who was
renowned not only for her vocal virtuosity but also for her
fiery temperament. Clearly, this was a case of one diva studying
another. Knight displayed his own Tony Award-winning performance
after the Evansville squeaker. "We didn't deserve this win,"
Knight said after the game. "In my record book we lost that
game. I don't know about the players, but I know I hate to take
something I don't deserve."
In the film session on the off day before the final, Knight
criticized his entire team, except Patterson, whom he singled
out for delivering the proper effort as well as the clutch shot
against the Aces on an inbounds play that began with 1.2 seconds
left on the clock. "With Andrae you hope those 1.2 seconds could
change his career," Dakich said. "But we've learned to wait and
see if he keeps moving forward."
Patterson's renewed confidence seemed to bubble over into the
championship game. After scoring 17 points in the opening half,
Patterson broke a 45-45 tie and put Indiana ahead for good with
a three-pointer from the top of the key and then a steal and
dunk with 12:22 left. That was all part of a stretch during
which he scored 15 consecutive Hoosier points. He shot 10 for 13
from the field in the second half. "That was one of the best
performances against a Duke team in the last decade," said Blue
Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski afterward. "We tried to defend him
with big guys, with little guys, with two guys. Sometimes we had
no guys, and that was about as effective as two guys."
Said Patterson, "In the second half I felt that I couldn't miss.
It was weird, but for one night I had a chance to feel how
Michael Jordan must feel every night."
It was the freshman Guyton who fed the ball to Patterson for
most of the game. Guyton scored 16 points and dished out five
assists in the NIT title game and ran the offense like a
seasoned vet. He and his classmate Lewis combined for just one
turnover in 66 minutes. Collier added six points, playing only
seven minutes because of foul trouble.
The victory was sublime for Knight, especially because he had
vanquished two of his former players and proteges, Evansville's
Jim Crews and Krzyzewski. Knight was also happy for senior
forward Haris Mujezinovic, who has endured his share of
tongue-lashings in Bloomington but had 11 points in the final to
make the all-tournament team. "I was tired of Coach Knight
telling me that I've never won anything," said an elated
Mujezinovic. "Maybe this win will keep him off my back for a
Patterson is probably experiencing similar fantasies. "I admit
that it's been very tough sometimes, and I've had second
thoughts if this was the right school and the right coach for
me," said the Hoosier forward, who was considering a transfer as
recently as this summer until his mother talked him out of it.
"I had to stop taking all the coach's criticism like it's a
personal vendetta. I had to realize he was trying to help me,
always pushing me toward a game like this."
Moments after the victory, there was D. Wayne Lukas, the
racehorse trainer and longtime Knight ally, standing behind the
Hoosier bench fussing over Patterson as if he were a champion
thoroughbred. Patterson's name was announced as the tournament's
most valuable player, and he jogged off to collect his hardware.
Knight actually smiled briefly from across the court.
"Thirty-nine points against Duke," Lukas mused to nobody in
particular. "Now there's a million-to-one long shot that paid