NEW YORK — Nice Bob is back, the latest in the many faces of Indiana's Bob Knight. UCLA will see him and his Hoosiers tonight in the NIT final, but it won't be all tea and crumpets.
That's how the Bruins wanted it. They have enough sense of their new underdog status to realize that they'll need to carve a new reputation out of someone else's.
Welcome to the biggest, most multifaceted reputation of them all.
At Thursday's press conference, UCLA's Walt Hazzard referred to Knight as "the legendary Bobby Knight."
Was there some faint irony in that? And had Hazzard talked of always wanting, as Nigel Miguel said, "to go head to head with Bobby Knight?"
"Oh, Nigel did say that?" said Hazzard, arching an eyebrow. "It's just an honor to coach against the Olympic coach, the man who's meant so much to basketball."
Knight was asked his opinion about all these coaches who think it's an honor to play him.
"The way I coached this year, sometimes," Knight said, grinning, "I'd like to coach against the s.o.b., too."
This was a comeback for Nice Bob. This particular facet hadn't been seen since last spring's Eastern Regional, where the darkhorse Hoosiers stunned No. 1-ranked North Carolina to get within a victory of the Final Four, only to be upset by Virginia.
Afterward, Nice Bob gave way to Driven Bob, the Olympic coach.
Driven Bob was preoccupied and distant. He had dozens of press conferences and rarely gave a responsive answer.
A friend said that Driven Bob was frustrated by his players' responses. During one game in the Olympics, he was heard to say: "I can't believe it! They just go out and play the way they want to!"
The U.S. team went 8-0 against NBA all-star teams and trashed the Olympic competition.
The best-worst was yet to come. Driven Bob gave way to Angry Bob.
Angry Bob embarked upon the days of rage. He refused to attend the Big Ten's preseason press conference, as a protest against supposedly crooked recruiting by fellow conference coaches. He railed at game officials, threw Mike Giomi and Winston Morgan off the team's flight home from Ohio State, threw Giomi off the team for cutting classes, started four freshmen at Illinois, sent assistant coach Jim Crews to talk to the press after games and may not have been asked a question by anyone outside his inner circle of writers all season.
Angry Bob gave way to Over-The-Edge Bob, who threw a chair across the court and subsequently was suspended for a game by the Big Ten. The Hoosiers went 7-11 in the Big Ten.
"Your intensity has gotten you into some controversies," a writer suggested Thursday.
Two months ago, the writer couldn't have gotten close enough to Knight to suggest that with a bullhorn. If he had, Knight might have tried to garrote him.
"Yeah, but it's gotten me some good things, too," Nice Bob said Thursday, gently.
"Do you ever regret some of the things you do the next morning?" the writer continued.
"Sometimes I regret things when the chair is about halfway across the floor," Nice Bob said, laughing. "I don't always have to wait until the next morning."
During games, Knight is almost nice, which is as good as it's going to get. His bench demeanor is down to mere anger, as opposed to those ominous silences with intermittent explosions he showed this season. He seems to have finally realized that you can whip Ol' Paint all you want, but she's never going to win the Kentucky Derby.
Now, he says publicly, the Hoosiers are "not greatly endowed physically. We're not overly quick and we don't jump real well."
And the recruiting that resulted in this team?
"We've been a little parochial in our recruiting," Knight said Thursday. "Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. We've recruited almost exclusively from there."
Knight has signed three junior college players for next season, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 for him. He is talking about red-shirting several of this season's freshmen. Look for a perceptibly quicker band of Hoosiers next fall.
People are always trying the burnout theory on Knight, suggesting that his double duty as Olympic and Indiana coach wore his nerves thin.
If Chris Mullin, who said that before the Olympics he hadn't been out of a gym two straight days since the fifth grade, stayed out for three weeks--if George Raveling, Knight's Olympic assistant, said it had been a long year--how could it not have taken the greatest toll on Mr. Intensity?
Mr. Intensity isn't having any of it, though.
"Chris was tired because we made him play defense," Knight said, grinning. "I'm saying that humorously. Chris turned the first half against Spain around with his defense. When I took him out of the game, I asked him if he ever thought he'd win a game with his defense. He said no. I said, 'Neither did I.'
"I was in Montana afterward, fishing for three weeks. I went home and went back out there for another three weeks. . . . It wasn't fatiguing. I really enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun."