CINCINNATI — Long before Steve Alford plugged in his first blow dryer or made his first jump shot as a Hoosier, Indiana Coach Bob Knight was at West Point, where he was coaching a point guard named Mike Krzyzewski.
"He became a very good defensive player," Knight remembers. "He was smart enough to realize that that was the way he was going to get to play, by playing well defensively."
Krzyzewski's memory of this player-coach relationship is a little different: "He taught me how not to shoot," he said.
Krzyzewski would later become known as "Coach K," much to the delight of and anyone who ever tried to spell or pronounce his name, and much to the pride and joy of his mentor Knight, who would later become known as the Head Hoosier and subject of a best-selling book.
When Coach K's Duke team reached the NCAA's Final Four last season, Krzyzewski called him and asked him to say a few words to his players. Now, Knight is trying to tell his own players how to keep Coach K and his team from making a return appearence.
Tonight at Riverfront Coliseum, Knight and Krzyzewski meet in a 2K run that will put the winner in the NCAA Midwest Regional championship game. Duke vs. Indiana. The mild-mannered, A-in-etiquette student vs. the teacher who will long be remembered for throwing a chair across his classroom.
Knight was asked Thursday to share his thoughts on coaching against Krzyzewski, who played under him at Army from 1967 to 1969 and served under him as a graduate assistant coach at Indiana in 1975. He flashed his "You've-got-your-nerve-asking-me-that" glare and replied: "Where's Mike gonna play? I'm a lot more concerned about the players than I am about Mike."
That was the tough-guy response. But those around Knight--and, eventually, Knight himself--admitted that he can't help but be aware of who will be at the end of the opposing bench tonight. This marks the first time this pupil and teacher have coached against each other.
Said Alford, Indiana's sharp-shooting and immaculately coiffed senior guard: "I think it's a special feeling for (Knight) because Coach K is a personal friend, and their relationship goes way back."
Back to West Point, where Knight began a college coaching career now in its 22nd season. Knight recalled an Army game against South Carolina in the 1969 National Invitation Tournament, in which Krzyzewski and one of his teammates were assigned very specific roles.
"I said to them, 'If either one of you (guys) shoots it, it'll be the last act you ever make on this earth," Knight said. "I remember a picture from that game. Mike has the ball and he steps up to the free throw line with no one within eight feet of him. He collects himself for the shot, he goes up for the shot, keeps going up, then, at the last second, passes the ball.
"That's why he's here coaching today."
Indiana is supposed to be here. The Hoosiers (26-4) tied Purdue for the Big 10 championship and are the top-seeded team in the Midwest. Duke (24-8) didn't figure to make it far enough to set up this reunion. The Blue Devils lost four starters from the team that fell to Louisville in last season's NCAA championship game in Dallas. They finished 9-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and were unceremoniously dumped by North Carolina State in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
But Duke has had some good luck in the draw in this tournament. The Blue Devils beat Texas A&M, surprising winner of the Southwest Conference tournament, in the first round and Xavier, an upset winner over Missouri, in the second.
And, as Knight softened to confess, they've got a skilled man in charge.
"They're extremely well coached," Knight said. "I taught (him), they ought to be."
Indiana or Duke will meet the winner of tonight's other Midwest semifinal between DePaul and LSU. Make that: DePaul, Team of Destiny, against LSU, master of the late-season surprise. The destiny lable starting sticking to DePaul after last Sunday's remarkable, 83-75, overtime win over St. John's. The Blue Demons (28-2) sent the game into overtime after trailing by five points with 45 seconds left in regulation. It took an intentionally missed free throw by Dallas Comegys and ensuing rebound and basket by Rod Strickland to force the extra period.
Said DePaul Coach Joey Meyer: "I think I want the players to believe they can win, and I think they do. If that's called 'a team of destiny,' fine."
LSU (23-14) was 9-8 in mid-January and in last place in the Southeastern Conference. Now, the Tigers are in a position to wind up in the Final Four for the second straight season. Coach Dale Brown has developed quite a knack for getting his Tigers to play best when it matters most.
Brown has given much of the credit for the late turnaround to his team's "Freak" Defense, which he describes as a combination of complex zones and man-to-mans that can change in an instant.
There is some debate as to whether The Freak is real or a figment of Brown's sometimes overactive imagination, but he insists it's the former. It's designed to confuse and fluster, and it works, according to Brown.
LSU guard Anthony Wilson is a believer. "It's a highly complex defense, whether people think it is or not," he said. "It confuses teams. It can put them into a zone offense when we're playing man-to-man, or vice versa."