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Knight, Smith reach top taking different routes

December 25, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Bob Knight and Dean Smith share little in image or personal style, but their ideas on basketball often converged.

Knight, poised to break Smith's record of 879 victories as a Division I men's coach as soon as Thursday, once said Michael Jordan -- who played for Smith at North Carolina and for Knight in the 1984 Olympics -- described the differences most memorably.

"One time he said Dean Smith was the master of the four-corner offense and I was the master of the four-letter word," Knight wrote in his 2002 autobiography, "Knight: My Story."

"But he would always say that we had the same end in what we were trying to do."

As Knight closed in on the record, tying it Saturday when Texas Tech beat Bucknell, The Times spoke to three contemporaries of the two men, quizzing them on a series of superlatives that ranged from serious to jesting.

Jim Calhoun has coached two NCAA championship teams at Connecticut and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Gene Keady was Knight's adversary for many years when Knight was at Indiana and Keady was at Purdue. And broadcaster Dick Vitale has known both for decades, referring to them admiringly as "Robert Montgomery Knight" and "Michelangelo."

Best coach with a five-point lead and two minutes left:

* Calhoun: Bob Knight. When he had his best players, it was almost like they were in some kind of trance. I've heard other coaches say that. They played with such discipline.

* Keady: That's an even one. I played them both, and I want to say there wasn't much difference. Both were very well-organized, great strategists, with great players.

* Vitale: I want to be a politician here, but when you're coming down the stretch, a guy like Knight, he holds a lead.

Best down five with 20 seconds left:

* Calhoun: The greatest coach ever, down any number, put Dean Smith. I have never seen a guy able to manipulate the clock like that, at a minute and a half, two minutes, 30 seconds. Nobody else could make some of the comebacks I saw his teams make over the years.

* Keady: Probably Knight. I remember one time, we were up one, and he got it inside to Dean Garrett and he stuck it in.

(Purdue was ranked No. 2 in 1988 when Garrett's go-ahead basket with five seconds left helped Indiana to an 82-79 upset.)

* Vitale: Dean Smith, Michelangelo, for years was really, really great when he was behind. It was unbelievable, so many miracle wins.

Best judge of talent:

* Vitale: They were both recruiting blue-chippers throughout their careers. That was synonymous with Carolina and Indiana. But Dean could take a super player and get him to blend in and play as a team. People don't realize how difficult it is to have McDonald's All-Americans all the time.

* Calhoun: Dean could judge talent probably better than anybody. Michael was a name out of high school, but he wasn't like you have today. Dean took players and made them into much better players. And he also made great players into semi-role players. It was rare for a player to take over a game.

* Keady: Smith.

Best with less talent:

* Keady: Knight.

* Vitale: Knight could take even mediocre talent and get them to play their hearts out, to play to the best of their ability.

* Calhoun: Anybody who played for Knight instantly became better. He determined their role. I would say both could judge talent, and both could mold it. Steve Alford was a better college player because of Knight.

Best in a coaches' clinic:

* Vitale: I remember being a high school coach listening to Knight early in his career. I was absolutely in awe. So many concepts. He relishes those settings. Dean didn't like the public eye.

* Keady: They're probably equal clinicians.

* Calhoun: Dean is not as great a clinician, because he's a little secretive. He's probably most interested in social issues. I'd probably rather hear from Dean on social issues now.

Best at a booster club meeting:

* Vitale: I would give that edge without a doubt to Knight. Dean would rather not be part of a scene like that. Bob Knight can be hilarious when he's on a roll. He can rock the place.

* Keady: Probably Knight was the funniest at booster club meetings. I never heard Dean at one.

* Calhoun: No question, Bob is one of the most captivating speakers I've ever heard. I've heard Colin Powell, Mario Cuomo, Bill Clinton. Incredible. I put Bob Knight in the top five or six I ever heard speak.

Best NCAA tournament coach:

* Keady: I'm not touching that one.

* Calhoun: I don't really think you can pick. Bob Knight won three and Dean won two.

* Vitale: Two guys, five national titles. They're in the Hall of Fame. I'm in the hall of shame!

Best Olympic coach:

* Keady: There was the boycott when Bobby was coaching in '84 in L.A., but I would say equal.

* Calhoun: You're talking now about two great racehorses.

* Vitale: I mean, they both won the gold. How can you pick one over the other?

Best if he were coach of the Lakers:

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