The only thing that might have been more shocking than Bobby Knight leaving basketball coaching to become a gray-haired Dick Vitale would have been if he’d become a basketball referee in a crew with Jim Burr and Timmy Higgins.
It wasn’t so much that he didn’t know his subject matter, for certainly he was well schooled in the art of basketball, but it was that in the past it seemed that he couldn’t complete a sentence without a choice four-letter word slipping in there.
Didn’t matter what the sentence was. Something as simple as “no way” would most often become “no bleeping way.”
But he surprised those of us who knew him and managed to make the transition without losing his identity right down to the red sweater.
True, he wasn’t smooth or glib and there were some things that gave him trouble, like say the name “Kilicli,” which he spent butchering for most of West Virginia University’s Wednesday night basketball game at Notre Dame.
WVU fans being what they are, this was taken as something of a slight in the TwitterWorld, bringing on an avalanche of scorn, fully misplaced, by the way, considering that such anguish should have been reserved for the team.
Indeed, as I tried to tell all those Turkish language majors out there, Bobby Knight had not been hired by ESPN for his the way he said things but for what it was he was saying.
True, he never did match the line of the night that came from ESPN’s play-by-play announcer Rece Davis, who at one point during the Mountaineers’ 16-point second half, proclaimed as another shot rattled off the rim “West Virginia has apparently given up scoring for Lent.”
Early in the game — when it was still a game, WVU having trailed only by two at halftime — Knight picked up on the fact that Kilicli was sort of playing the game at his own pace. This was quite early, in fact, before the really bad problems began for the big man in the middle.
For example, Kilicli took a pass down low and took a dribble as he made his move to the basket, only to have one of the Notre Dame guards reach in and knock the ball loose.
“Kilicli has a bad habit of putting the ball on the floor when he doesn’t have to,” Knight said.
A short while later, on a high-low setup, Kilicli was passed the ball out there where Truck Bryant usually gets it. He stood there and looked, unguarded, and looked, still unguarded, and looked again, still unguarded.
“I never liked the big man going out further than he can shoot the ball because they don’t have to guard him,” Knight said.
He wasn’t saying he didn’t like Kilicli outside or in a high-low set, just not so far out that there was no chance of him shooting the ball, let alone making a shot.
But that was just the beginning; it was before even coach Bob Huggins became irritated with Kilicli.
That would become to come on a drive to the basket by Irish point guard Eric Atkins, who had such an obstructed run that he looked like a Mountaineer starter coming down the carpet during introductions in the Coliseum.
The fan’s first reaction was to blame the man Atkins got past.
“Kilicli had to move to help and he made no effort whatsoever to get there,” Knight said.
Rest assured, Huggins noticed it, too.
Then came the play that set Huggs off completely, a play where Notre Dame big man Jack Cooley beat everyone down the court.
Knight didn’t pay attention to everyone, just Kilicli, who was supposed to be there.
“I saw that at Pittsburgh (Knight also was the color commentator on WVU’s victory at Pitt) where Kilicli goes at his own pace. A couple of times he just went down the court ho-hum.”
As the words were coming out of his mouth, other words were coming out of Huggins mouth, and Kilicli was removed from the floor.
“WVU has a good duo with (Kevin) Jones and Kilicli,” Knight said, “but Kilicli better start hustling or he won’t get back in the game.”
What you were getting there was honest commentary from a coach who really is very much the same kind of coach as is Huggins, a coach who asked only that his players give their all and a little bit more, just as Huggins does.
Now we’re not saying Bob Knight is another Jay Jacobs, mind you, but as a color analyst he’s a pretty good coach.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.