Coach Knight was the most intimidating person aside from my Mom and Dad I had ever met! His size alone was impressive. When he talked there was an uncommon force in his voice that made you pay attention, even if you didn’t want to.
(My brother) Craig was on the team the year Indiana won the national championship with Isaiah Thomas in the 1981 season. He didn’t make it through the second semester in Knight’s program. Sometime before my junior year, Coach Knight had the nerve to say to me, “I recruited the wrong Bardo.” I didn’t know whether to punch or curse him. I was somewhat in shock that he would say that to me. It’s as if “The Great” Bob Knight saying that should make me feel good. I conveniently shared that story with my teammates and I love each and every one of those guys for the effort they gave whenever we played the Hoosiers.
Fast forward to March 5th and the showdown is set.
The Flyin’ Illini year we gave Indiana fits because of the way we switched all five positions. Normally teams don’t play defense like this because it results in mismatches that the opposing team could take advantage of. With us, we were all between 6’5 and 6’7, so we could switch everything. This posed problems for Indiana. Their offense wasn’t as effective when we switched on all of the screens. It allowed us to nullify some of the strengths the Hoosiers enjoyed against most Big Ten teams.
The game was tight.
We entered the last minute of the game and I remember in the timeout huddle we knew to key on Jay Edwards. He would get the ball and we were prepared.
As the clock is inside of 10 seconds, Jay is being guarded by Nick Anderson. Jay gets an on-ball screen and Lowell Hamilton switches onto him. Jay dribbles left towards the baseline and Lowell is all over him. Jay uses his right arm to create just a little bit of space and shoots it falling out of bounds with Lowell guarding him. I’m underneath the basket, preparing for a defensive rebound. I could see the flight of the ball and I knew it was going in. As soon as the shot is made, I called a timeout.
Coach Henson devised a play that we had worked on in practice many times and were comfortable with the call. We came out of the huddle and no one from Indiana was guarding me. To be honest, I was somewhat surprised. We only had two seconds to go the full length of the court to score. We ran the play to perfection as I hit Nick with a laser pass to get him the ball in stride. Nick showed basketball purists how incredibly strong he was. He caught the ball coming from the baseline, catches, pivots, and shoots a jumper from 35 feet! A jumper. Not a push or set shot, a jumper. If you go back and look at the shot, he is easily 3 feet off the floor when he shoots. Nothing but net. Incredible play to culminate an incredible game that we won 70-67.
The celebration on their floor was extra sweet for me and my Dad. I was told he jumped over our team bench and joined us on the floor. I was in the mob and I didn’t see him until we got back to the locker room. We didn’t have to say anything, we both knew what we were feeling. We simply hugged each other and he told me how proud he was of us and how we kept our composure. I wished Craig could have been there to cherish this moment with us. All of my teammates gave me extra love that day knowing what that meant to my family!
I don’t care for Bob Knight for the reasons explained earlier and his lack of respect for others. With that said, I think he is still the best coach in college basketball history. All of the other coaches who are in the same range of career wins had far better players consistently than Knight did. He always got the most out of his talent. During the 1988-89 season, Indiana won the Big Ten title with Todd Jadlow as one of the starting big men. No disrespect to him, just praise for what they were able to accomplish. They won the national championship a few years earlier with a good yet nothing special roster of talent.
I loved playing against his teams, too, because you knew they would be prepared. They would execute, and if you won, you knew you earned it. I also enjoyed playing against his teams because we won 6 out of the 8 times we played them!