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The Bob Knight Experience with Mr. Bill Cook

My rock star attitude took a toll on the IU assistant coaches at the time. Dan Dakich and Joby Wright both challenged me with intense verbal confrontations on separate occasions. Ron Felling simply ignored me most of the time unless I humored his jokes. Tates Locke, on the other hand, was the one coach who was able to relate to me. One day Coach Locke and I sat high in the stands in Assembly Hall, and he asked me why I was attending IU? I think he expected me to say something along the lines of “to become a professional basketball player” or “to earn a degree.” My reply was one in which I stood by: “to experience all that college has to offer.” Coach Locke laughed, and as the conversation continued, he gave me much needed insight on how college coaching is designed and how the system was affecting my playing time as well as basketball players just like me all over the country.

Coach Locke quickly began to explain his view of coaching at the division 1 level. He said that every student athlete has an advocate on staff trying to get their player minutes on the court. They do this because in most cases they recruited that player. When a player does not perform to expectations on and off the court, the head coach usually blames the assistant coach who was responsible for the recruitment process.

When that assistant coach gives up on the athlete, dealing with that player becomes the responsibility of another assistant coach. The process continues until the team runs out of assistant coaches.

Then a decision is made to either encourage the player to leave or to let the athlete ride the scholarship out. When I said I understood, he said, “I am the last assistant coach on the list to deal with Mark Robinson.” Whether this was true or he was just trying to get me to leave the rock star mode, based off the behavior of the other assistant coaches, his reasoning made complete sense. We I left Assembly Hall, I felt much better about my interactions with Coach Wright and Coach Dakich. I understood that these assistant coaches were under extreme pressure, and it is sometimes easy to forget that the players dealt with are 18-21 year old kids. I also came to understand that as a player, once practice was over I could go back to my rock star world, and they had to continue to stay in the world of Bob Knight.

While at IU, Buzz Kurpius was the team’s academic advisor, and she did a wonderful job of keeping the team eligible. I majored in General Studies, but I had no clue what I could do with a degree in General Studies and neither did anyone else. Buzz was a sincere person, and most of the time it was clear that she wanted the best for the guys on the team. Her job was to make sure players attended class and passed classes. However, her oversight did not extend beyond our class work. At the time, everyone assumed athletes were gaining the necessary personal development and becoming better people through the basketball experience. Understanding the personal needs of the athletes on the basketball team was not a high priority, and the importance of personal development was unknown. I would argue that many academic advisors today are still unaware of the needs and benefits of personal development for athletes.

Bill Cook

Bill and Gayle Cook

During the spring semester of 1988 my GPA did not meet the standard that Coach Knight believed to be acceptable. As a punishment, he assigned me to work during that summer at a company called Cook Group Incorporated. I did not know much about the company or what I would be doing, but since the work assigned was a punishment, I assumed it would not be pleasant. I reported to work and sat with Mr. Bill Cook, the CEO. I remember seeing Mr. Cook around Assembly Hall from time to time and had exchanged pleasantries with him and his wife, Gayle, on several occasions without ever realizing he was the CEO of a major company. On my first day we talked and laughed for a little over an hour while watching his marching band on tape. While I was enjoying this opportunity, Mr. Cook received a call from Coach Knight asking what job I would be doing? Mr. Cook replied to Coach that we had not yet begun that discussion. Coach Knight asked Mr. Cook to give me the dirtiest job he could find. I ended up cleaning bathrooms, maintaining a bird pool in front of the office, and sand blasting vents on the roof of the building all summer. However, every time Mr. Cook and I had an opportunity to chat, we would. After the summer job, I did not see much of Mr. Cook until I finished my degree……

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The Bob Knight Experience

Playing for Bob Knight at Indiana elevated one’s status in the community and on campus, and no one loved the recognition more than myself. This was the first time I truly felt entitled as a result of the hard work and commitment I made at the high school and community college level. Now this might sound silly, but the fact that people recognized me and wanted my autograph, fed into my ego. The social life of an Indiana basketball player could take one of two courses. You could a: take the student athlete route and focus on academics and basketball, or b: take the rock star route while focusing on academics and basketball. Most of my teammates took route A. I, however, took route B. Yes, the rock star route. I think my decision was due to my ignorance regarding what IU basketball was all about. I did not grow up in basketball culture like most of my teammates, and I suspect they knew what signing up for IU basketball entailed. I had no clue.

The College Basketball Rock Star

Taking the rock star route had serious consequences because Coach Knight and his staff knew everything players did after practice and games. Some students would even call the basketball office and leave messages for coaches alerting them that some of the basketball players were out at a party. My social life affected my playing time. Although the consequences frustrated me at times, I still made my choice. Once I was able to accept the coach’s decision, it did not matter how much I played during games. I believed my personal time existed before or after the games, and I loved each and every minute of that lifestyle. My job was to give 100% on the basketball court in practice and in games, and I did that without question. However, I felt once basketball was over, my time was available to do as I pleased. If IU granted a degree in the area of being a socialite, I would have not only made the honor roll, but I would have been the valedictorian of my class.

The College Basketball Luxuries

As part of a nationally recognized athletic program, athletes are afforded certain luxuries, and one extravagance was having team managers around. Many on the outside do not realize the difficulty involved with being a team manager nor do they see the long-term benefits. Lawrence Frank, who would later become an NBA coach, and I established a great relationship. He was a guy who would tell you how he felt in a joking, yet sarcastic way and did not care about who you were and how many minutes you were playing. I enjoyed laughing and talking to “L,” as we called him, because he could put a tough practice or loss in a humorous perspective even when you did not want to laugh. He would also give you a certain look at times to alert you that Coach Knight was not in the mood for playing around and that locker room jokes needed to be shut down.

The Bob Knight Relationship

My relationship with Coach Knight was not like the relationship I had with my previous two coaches to say the least. Coach Knight would often ask me to just leave and go back to California. Although I gave that option some thought, I enjoyed being in the Rock Star mode way too much and going back to California was not an option. During my tenure, players like Rick Calloway, Dave Minor, Chuck White, and Lawrence Funderburke transferred for a variety of reasons. At the time, I could not understand why a player in his right mind would leave Bloomington Indiana. I developed a relationship with all of these guys and each time one of them transferred, I was hurt in the same way a person feels the loss of a family member.

Coach Knight, while misunderstood by many on the outside world, treated all players, starters, and reserves the same. His methods of motivation were nothing like I had ever seen. He placed a big emphasis on diversity and would often go into a rage if he walked into a pre-game meal and the room was segregated. No table with black-only players was allowed, and vise versa. Additionally, there were two issues that were not debatable with Coach Knight: alcohol & drugs and academics. Players would simply no longer be at IU if they had trouble in either of these two areas.

As players transferred from the team, my compassion for them and my curiosity in athletic behavior began to grow. The one thing I noticed when these athletes left IU was the amount of isolation the institution quickly, yet unknowingly placed them in. Once a player made the decision to leave IU, they were on their own and kept a distance between themselves and former teammates. None of the players’ departure hurt me more than when Jay Edwards left IU and entered the NBA draft after his sophomore season. Jay Edwards had the best jump shot and highest basketball IQ of any player I had ever worked with, but when he decided to turn professional, I questioned the rationale for his decision. He and I spent two years together regularly, and we never discussed the possibility of him playing in the NBA. I believe playing in the NBA was one of his long-term goals, but leaving after his sophomore year was the result of his family’s expectation. Once the decision was made, the IU basketball community turned on Jay and he was placed in isolation..

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