Bobby Knight Raises Funds in Indiana

Thursday, September 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STARLIGHT, Ind. (AP) _ On most nights, you won't find many people in this rural southern Indiana town who give a hoot about Lubbock, Texas.

You'd probably find even fewer who could name a player on the Texas Tech basketball team.

But bring in one Robert Montgomery Knight and all that changes _ quickly. About 600 people paid $40 a ticket to see Knight speak at a Texas Tech fund-raiser Wednesday night, evidence the coach's popularity in Indiana hasn't changed, even if his place of employment has.

``There's really no way that I can tell you how much this means to me,'' Knight said after receiving a standing ovation. ``I wanted to leave something that people could look back on and think about having enjoyed. This shows we did that.''

Fired a little more than a year ago by Indiana University, the Hall of Famer has made believers out of Texas Tech officials, who wouldn't have pegged Indiana as a prime fund-raising spot.

``This would be a pretty hard thing to do in most cases,'' said Bill Dean, head of Texas Tech's alumni association. ``To leave a state and go to a school in another part of the country, then come back to that location and raise money for the new school.''

Dean chuckled for a moment: ``That just doesn't happen.''

It does when it comes to Bob Knight and the state of Indiana.

The red-sweatered, and often red-faced, Knight stomped the hardwood court at IU's Assembly Hall for nearly 30 years, bringing the Hoosiers three NCAA championships. He was respected by leagues of people, from high-powered alumni to local folks who just rooted for IU.

But his well-documented temper also earned him a fair number of detractors. In the end, he was fired for what the university called a pattern of unacceptable behavior.

That successfully took Knight out of the university, but not out of the hearts of his faithful fans.

Standing amid hundreds of fans, who were buying up Texas Tech gear like it was going out of style, Norma McCarty gave a satisfied smile.

``I think it's just a hoot that he can come back here and command this kind of attention,'' McCarty said.

Her daughter, Mary Ann McCarty, wearing a cowboy hat wrapped in Texas Tech colors, agreed.

``There's just a little bit of poetic justice to this,'' she said, noting that tickets for this year's event sold faster than any previous year. ``We still consider him ours.''

An organizer of the dinner expected it to raise at least $30,000 for the university more than a thousand miles away, but Knight fans already have had a positive financial impact on Texas Tech's athletic program.

Stores across Indiana now stock Red Raiders apparel. Steve Uryasz, Texas Tech's senior associate athletic director, said IU alumni living in Texas have purchased season tickets and turned out at Texas Tech fund-raisers across the state.

And 75 people from Indiana, with no connection to the Red Raiders, have joined the team's booster club, paying $125 to $1,000 each.

Knight spoke to the group informally, as if catching up with old friends. He talked about his new team and affectionately described some of his new players. His speech consisted of a string of anecdotes ranging from his grandchildren to his memories of hunting and fishing while he was at Indiana.

``We can all look back, and really the simple things are the great things,'' he said. ``There's nowhere that I've ever felt better or felt more at home than right here.''

Except for one mildly sarcastic reference to IU, Knight made no comments about his former employer.

John Hobson, senior vice president of IU's alumni association, said the annual Knight visit to Starlight raised considerable money over the years for the IU library.

Now the university is moving on with different fund-raisers involving current Hoosiers coach Mike Davis.

``There's certainly no animosity at our end of Bob Knight coming back to Indiana,'' Hobson said. ``He has a lot of friends throughout the state and the nation.''