Daylight after Knight’s fall?

Glenn Kasses

He arrived at Indiana in 1971, a year before Assembly Hall even opened. Five national championship banners hang in the building; three belong to his teams. And it’s been 25 years since a school has gone undefeated – 25 years since the 1975-76 Hoosiers went 32-0.

Bob Knight’s gone now – the General was handed a dishonorable discharge in September – but interim head coach Mike Davis insists “Indiana is still Indiana.”

Try telling that to Chip Patterson, a sophomore at Indiana.

“Things are a lot different,” Patterson said. “I didn’t buy season tickets this year because I wasn’t so sure things would be quite the same. Some people I know have stayed religious basketball fans. Some people sort of backed away.”

With Knight’s dismissal growing faint in the rearview mirror, the university is still living in the former coach’s shadow.

After the firing – for a “pattern of unacceptable behavior,” according to Indiana President Myles Brand – the entire campus was turned upside down: rioting, protests and heated confrontations, all because of a basketball coach.

“Just prior to the (firing) news conference, all the streets were already lined with emergency vehicles,” Patterson recalled. “It seemed like there was a fire truck every 50 yards.

“Right after it happened, people started gathering at Assembly Hall – and then the riots in front of President Myles Brand’s residence on campus. It was intense for that first little while.”

And no matter how many games they win this year, or how much support they receive, the Hoosiers will constantly be overshadowed by Knight’s fading legend.

Indiana still has the same crimson-and-cream uniforms, many of the same assistant coaches and the same players, but there is an unmistakable void in Bloomington, Ind. – the man in the red sweater is gone.

“We’re not all watching how Coach Knight’s going to react,” said Kellye Kirkbride, a senior and president of Indiana’s Student Athletic Board. “We’re more into the game, I guess, and not necessarily what Coach is doing.”

Kirkbride – who has been to every home game this year – will watch as her Hoosiers (15-9, 6-4 Big Ten) take on Northwestern, fresh off its first Big Ten win in two years. The Wildcats (9-15, 1-10) will meet Indiana at 7 p.m. tonight at Assembly Hall, looking to stop Indiana’s three-game conference winning streak.

It won’t be an easy streak to break, if history is any indication. The Hoosiers haven’t lost to the Cats since 1988 and are 26-0 against them all-time at Assembly Hall. But those 26 wins came with Knight at the helm, in a different era.

“Bobby Knight. When you think of Indiana you think of Bobby Knight,” said NU sophomore center Aaron Jennings, who has played against Indiana once in his career. “You see him on the sidelines, being a real fiery coach.”

Even if Hoosiers supporters like Patterson shied away initially, Indiana’s passion for basketball hasn’t been quelled. And that has meant the slow return of fans, even without Knight.

The Hoosier State is renowned for its basketball fervor, a fact that struck Patterson, a Cleveland native.

“Indiana basketball – whether it’s the Pacers, IU or some high school team – it’s like a religious following,” he said. “Things are starting to get back on track. People are moving on with their lives. People are getting back into university life. They will always look back, and there will always be the Knight era. But I think people are starting to move along, and they’re looking at Coach Davis. He’s a young coach, and it’s taken a while to have the team adapt to him and get things going.”

Both Patterson and Kirkbride said the university has recently rallied around Davis’ team, trying to rekindle the Hoosiers magic.

Although the General personified the Hoosiers in his three decades, the storied tradition of Indiana basketball may prove to be even bigger.

“We have some great crowds here at Assembly Hall,” Davis said. “Our guys feel really comfortable playing here in front of the home crowd. The students are really getting involved, and I know when we make runs at home, it’s unbearable in here.”

Still, Davis’ status remains up in the air, his interim tag fastened tight. Knight’s son, Pat, was an assistant coach and is already gone. The rest of the staff is in limbo. Recent rumors have freshman Jared Jeffries and junior Kirk Haston heading to the NBA after the season.

Students and an entire state are trying their best to move on. And when Knight’s former associates and players leave, so too will a large part of his shadow over Indiana athletics.

But so long as there are history books and videotapes, and so long as his three banners hang from the rafters, Knight won’t be forgotten.

“I think there’s still the mystique,” Kirkbride said. “It is Indiana basketball. It’s no longer the Coach Knight Indiana basketball that people seem to know, but there are still a lot of attractions to basketball and being at Assembly Hall.”