x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Tough love is Pat Knight's mantra at Lamar Cardinals

Pat is building his own programme at the Cardinals, even if it is resembled his father Bob's style.

Pat Knight's Lamar Cardinals face Vermont tonight.
Pat Knight's Lamar Cardinals face Vermont tonight.

For three seasons and counting, people have gone out of their way to highlight the differences between Pat and Bob Knight. The resemblance, though, never seems stronger than when one or the other starts growling.

So go to YouTube, cue up the video of Pat Knight's nearly eight-minute rant about the seniors on his Lamar University basketball team, then close your eyes. He sounds exactly like his father. At one point, he even threatens to behave like the old man, too.

"When I played, if you acted the way some of these guys did, you got shoved in a locker with a forearm up against your neck and told: 'You don't do that. That's not how we do things at Indiana,'" he said. "And that's what we need."

Whatever it was Lamar needed, consider it done. Since Knight's tirade in late February - after a dispirited loss at home to Stephen F Austin - the Cardinals have won six in a row and grabbed one of the last available spots in the NCAA Tournament.

Lamar play Vermont tonight, with the winner facing the mighty North Carolina three nights later. No matter where this experiment in tough love ends, the younger Knight considers it a success already.

"The thing I learnt from my first job is you can't coach scared," he said. "What I did at Texas Tech was worry about the consequences - what the media thinks, what the fans say - instead of what's best for your programme.

"And so two weeks ago, we'd just been having this horrible couple of days, I told my assistants before I went into the interview room, 'I'm going to get these guys' attention. I'm going to call them out to the media, really throw them under the bus and see what the response was.'

"I knew they were tough enough to do it," he added, then paused. "And they did."

Few things are more fascinating than watching a son step out of his father's shadow, but for most of his adult life, Pat Knight barely seemed to be trying. He played basketball for his famously volatile father at Indiana, and spent seven of his eight seasons as a college assistant working for him.

He inherited his first head coaching job from his father - at Texas Tech, two-thirds into the 2008 season - and employed the same motion offence and man-to-man defensive principles that Bob Knight pioneered and stubbornly stuck with for decades.

The son earned his first ejection as a head coach just three games into the next season.

Soon after, though, a different Pat Knight emerged. He was much more subdued than his father had been in his heyday, especially around referees, and he was willing to experiment with an up-tempo style of play and even the occasional zone defence.

But halfway measures produced middling results and he got fired at Tech with a 50-61 record and zero appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

"You take stock of everything when you get fired. I had that spring and all summer to think things over, and the two things at Tech that were mistakes is putting up with too much BS and coaching scared," Knight said.

"What I promised myself was that in the new job, I was going to do things my way, whether that meant using the things I learnt from my dad and all those other coaches or not. That's why I got into this business in the first place - to start my own programme, to run my own programme, and build a programme that I and all the people around me will be proud of."

Knight took the job at Lamar and he made the Cardinals play and behave his way. He suspended three players and when the moment called for it, he called out the seniors whose trust he needed most, and they responded.

"When I told my dad I wanted to be a coach, he told me a story about going to see Coach [Joe] Lapchick before he took his first job at West Point," Pat said.

"Coach Lapchick asked him, 'Is it important for you to be liked?' My dad thought about it a second and said, 'No.' So coach Lapchick looked at him and says, 'Right. And if you have plans to be a coach for long, don't ever forget this: it's more important to be respected than liked.'"

* Associated Press