Smart to take over Alford’s role next year

Smart to take over Alford’s role next year

On the NCAA

by Bob Knight

April 3, 1987

The best thing about winning the national championship is that now I’ve got seven months ahead where I don’t have a sore stomach.

I was really churning inside Monday night against Syracuse. I think I went through two packs of Rolaids. We were in trouble right from the start.

As happy as I am for our kids and our fans, I also really feel a lot of compassion for Syracuse. Heck, those guys were 5 seconds away from winning the national championship.

I thought Jim Boeheim and his kids really did an outstanding job. They created a lot of problems for us and really had us on the ropes several times.

But because Keith Smart made as many big plays in critical situations as anybody I’ve ever seen, we were fortunate enough to win our third title since I’ve been in Bloomington.

I’m still not sure this is a good team. In 1976 and 1981, our other championship years, we had teams that really couldn’t be beat. Each was clearly the dominant team in the tournament.

But this team won mostly by hanging in there and making the big plays when necessary. And it had Steve Alford, who deserves a little niche in the heart of everybody who loves basketball because of what he was able to get out of his abilities.

In the first half, I felt we were sluggish and tired because of how hard we had to work to beat Las Vegas in the semifinals. We were able to lead at halftime only because Alford hit from the corner on a play we used to run for Randy Wittman.

When Syracuse got us down by 8 with about 14 minutes left, I told our guys during a timeout that we were giving the national championship away and that they were going to bury us unless we got it going our way pretty soon.

We scored 10 straight to take a 2-point lead, but Syracuse came right back to go up by 5. I thought they made a tremendous effort to get control of things at that point.

But we hung in there and cut it to 73-72 when Smart made one of those plays I mentioned, getting the rebound on missed free throw and taking it all the way for a jumper.

At that point I put Steve Eyl in for Dean Garrett to either try for a steal on the in-bounds play or foul within 10 seconds. But Smart fouled Derrick Coleman quickly, which was a great play … a fantastic play.

If Coleman missed the free throw, which he did, we wanted to bring it down and not start our offense until there were only 15 seconds left. If we scored, we didn’t want to give them time to beat us on a last-second shot.

We waited longer, really than I wanted. But Daryl Thomas did a good job of not taking the panic shot and giving it back to Smart, who made his last big play of the night.

The good thing from my standpoint is I at least won’t go down in history as the first coach who ever let the clock run out without getting off a shot with the national title at stake.

In the locker room long after it was over, Dr. Brad Bomba, our team physician, gave me a little medal that he had been saving since we won the title in 1981. It said, “World’s Greatest Coach.” I appreciate that but I just want to be remembered as a guy who got the most out of what he had.

This team did that. It went beyond what I thought its potential was. We will not go down in history as being one of the dominant NCAA champions – yet our name will always be out there to the right of 1987 on the list of champions.

What I’m going to do now is go fishing with Pete Newell, the coach of California’s 1959 NCAA championship team and one of three coaches in history who had the most influence in the game. We’ve just done a book together titled, “The World of Basketball According to Knight and Newell.

We’re going to find some little out-of-the-way motel and Pete’s going to register as Harvey Schmaltz. We’ll do a lot of fishing and maybe even talk a little basketball.

As for next year, I’m really looking forward to putting Smart in Alford’s role because there are so many things that he can do in that role that Steve just doesn’t have the athletic ability to do.

Why you can put him on the free-throw line and lob to him and you can … aw, wait a minute. Here I am just after winning the title and I’m already thinking about next season.

No wonder my stomach’s sore.