On Dec. 10, 1994, Miami (Ohio) played host Indiana in the Hoosiers’ holiday tournament, and the Mid-American Conference school lost to the Big Ten school 92-77. Current Arizona State coach Herb Sendek was a wide-eyed second-year coach for the RedHawks then, barely 30 years old.
That game was on a Saturday. Two days later, Sendek got a call in his office from Bob Knight. To this point, their interaction consisted of a handshake before the game, and another after the game.
“He called to let me know what he thought of our team,” Sendek said Tuesday, the day after Knight retired from 42 seasons, 902 career wins and three national championships. “We talked for 20 minutes about things we could do to get more shots and better shots for our best shooter. He was as gracious and kind as somebody could be during a busy time. He had an interest in talking and sharing thoughts on the game.
“That had a special meaning to me.”
Surprised to hear from The General?
“Very much so,” Sendek said. “There’s no way I would ever expect it and to this day no one’s done it since.”
Surprised to see The General leave?
Not so much.
A few years ago, Arizona State assistant Scott Pera befriended Knight’s son, Pat, now the new Texas Tech coach. Three years ago, Pera spent a few October days in Lubbock, staying with Pat and getting an “all-access” peek into the program.
Pera hasn’t talked to the younger Knight since the coaching change, but Pat was already named his father’s successor in 2005, ran most of the practices, recruiting and did a lot of media.
The timing — a month left in the season and the Red Raiders with an outside shot at reaching the NCAA tournament — is odd.
But doesn’t odd describe Bob Knight?
“He knew it was coming, but probably not until the end of the year,” Pera said of Pat Knight getting his first coaching gig.
Bob Knight granted an interview with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal to explain his decision and be his mouthpiece. That was it. He insisted on no news conference or farewell tour.
Knight was tired of the grind, especially after seeing Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser die of a heart attack last summer.
This exit, random though it may feel, was The General way.
GOOD LUCK REF
Don’t get any Pac-10 schools — or their fans — started about the league’s officiating, but take a deep breath and pause before hurling obscenities and insults the next time Tim Gabutero refs a game.
He’s officiated Pac-10, Mountain West and West Coast Conference games for 25 years, but that run (temporarily) ended earlier this season when stomach pains were diagnosed as liver cancer after he officiated a tournament in Hawaii. He’s been in chemotherapy for more than a month but plans on returning next season.
Turns out Stanford coach Trent Johnson is among Gabutero’s closest friends, having played basketball with him in high school in the late 1970s.
Don’t worry. Gabutero has given Johnson more than one technical over the years, and both coach and ref hope he returns to hand out more.
ANOTHER SUDDEN DEATH
More tragedy, this time from Ohio, where Ohio University-Chillicothe’s Jonathan Davis collapsed and died during Monday evening’s practice.
Davis played with his two cousins, D.J. Davis and Jim Jones, at the nonscholarship institution. They’re all originally from Virginia, but elected to go to school and play basketball together after Jonathan decided to play near where his father lived.
Said D.J.: “They called us the Three Stooges, and we were like brothers.”
Raise your hand if you know where Rider is located. Exactly. So why did Jason Thompson go to school in Lawrenceville, N.J.? It’s close to home and has a pretty good basketball program, and Thompson has become a big (6-foot-10) reason why. He averages 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.2 steals per game for the Broncs. He has topped 20 points 14 times this season while shooting 55 percent and is projected to be a mid-first-round draft pick.
Purdue’s cause won’t get much help from a mediocre Big Ten or nonleague schedule that featured one quality win (Louisville), but the Boilermakers have surprised the league while tied with Wisconsin atop the conference. They lost at Michigan State by three points nearly a month ago, and haven’t fallen since. Matt Painter’s team has done it with defense, as they have allowed 55.9 points per game in the Big Ten. Rough stretch ahead: Wisconsin (again), Michigan State and Indiana are among their next four opponents.
USC at Washington State, 12:30 p.m., Channel 15. A good argument could be made that the Cougars’ game Thursday night against UCLA is the better matchup, but not the way those two teams have played recently (UCLA for the better, Wazzou for the worse). USC lost at home to Arizona last week, and the young Trojans need another signature win to help their tournament chances. O.J. Mayo, Taj Gibson, Davon Jefferson and Daniel Hackett against the Cougars defense should offer a good glimpse on national TV — exposure that’s hard to come by for the Pac-10.
“I don’t think there’s going to be too many dinosaurs. It’s different today. It’s harder coaching than it once was.”
Eddie Sutton, who finally notched his 800th career coaching victory as San Francisco’s interim coach in a win over Pepperdine Saturday night.
TOP SEEDS: North Carolina (21-1); Memphis (21-0); Kansas (21-1) and UCLA (20-2)