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Morning Briefing

Tarkanian and Knight: Odd Couple

March 26, 1987

The morning after Nevada Las Vegas opened the season with a victory over Arizona, Jerry Tarkanian was awakened by an early phone call.

According to John Feinstein of the Washington Post, the caller yelled, "To hell with Lute Olson!" Olson is the Arizona coach.

Tarkanian was confused. "What?" he said.

"To hell with Lute Olson!" the caller yelled again before dissolving in laughter. "Tark, I stayed up late just to hear that score. I'm so damn glad you won that game I can't tell you."

The caller was Bob Knight.

Writes Feinstein: "Knight's dislike for Olson goes back to the days when Olson coached at Iowa and he and Knight were fierce Big Ten rivals. That relationship is understandable. But the relationship of Knight and Tarkanian is not so easy to figure. They are certainly an Odd Couple. Yet, they are close friends."

Says Knight: "I like Tark and Tark likes me, and we don't care what anyone thinks."

He says it's Tarkanian's turn to treat for dinner, however. He says he's picked up the tab the past three times. It's a streak he can do without.

Add Tarkanian: Four years ago, he invited University of California sociology professor Harry Edwards to UNLV to write a survey of the program.

Edwards told the Washington Post he was ready to write a "blistering" report but said, "I came out with a whole different perspective. It is no worse than most and better than many. You have to use a different yardstick. He takes the athletes no one else wants, with difficulties or unsavory backgrounds. And he probably does as well as anyone given the fact that he has to evolve out of this problem.

"He falls in love with those players and he'll do anything for them. He tries not to break rules. But then an inner-city kid comes in with teeth so bad it looks like someone has set off a hand grenade in his mouth, and NCAA rules say you can't help him get them fixed. He reacts negatively to that."

Add Knight: He said he never looked at the last shot by LSU's Nikita Wilson, which came just after time expired last Sunday.

"I looked at the officials," said Knight. "When those SOBs ran off the floor, I did, too."

Trivia Time: John Wooden won five NCAA titles with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton at center. Who were the centers on his other five championship teams? (Answer below.)

Said Oklahoma City basketball Coach Abe Lemons, when asked if the NCAA's "death penalty" against Southern Methodist would clean up college athletics: "They have electric chairs and that hasn't stopped people from killing each other."

Said all-time base stealer Lou Brock, when asked who was the toughest pitcher to steal against: "Phil Niekro. You might not believe it, but he had very quick feet."

Still does. Says Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, a Cleveland consultant: "Phil still is amazingly nimble on his feet. I think he can pitch another two or three years."

Niekro turns 48 next Wednesday. That's April Fool's Day.

Trivia Answer: Fred Slaughter, 1963-64; Doug McIntosh, 1964-65; Steve Patterson, 1969-70 and 1970-71; Richard Washington, 1974-75.


Bill Russell, WTBS analyst, after Washington's Manute Bol had blocked a half-dozen shots by Atlanta's Kevin Willis: "One thing Manute Bol is going to do is make Kevin Willis a better passer."

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