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November 2, 2011

Knight eager, happy to coach Lamar

BEAUMONT — Media types around the Southland Conference got a small sample Wednesday morning of why Pat Knight could wind up becoming one of Lamar University’s most popular coaching hires in years. That’s all predicated, of course, on whether his Cardinal teams win enough games and qualify for the SLC tournament.

Knight, during his 10 minutes on the SLC’s pre-season conference call, provided a revealing picture of himself, of why he’s thrilled to be coaching at Lamar, of what he expects from his team and of where his Hall of Fame father, Bob Knight, fits into the big picture.

Right off the top, the former Texas Tech head coach said if he hadn’t been hired at Lamar he would probably not be coaching anywhere this season. In explaining his thinking, Knight painted a pretty convincing picture that he’s not looking at LU as a possible stepping stone back to the next level.

“I’m going to be one of the few guys in this business who doesn’t have an ego,” he said. “With the cheating and everything that’s going on, I’m more suited for the Southland Conference than one of the BCS conferences. This is the purest level of coaching and it’s where I want to be.

“I’m not a basketball lifer and I’m not trying to become the richest guy or the next James Naismith. I’ve looked at what Don Haskins did at Texas-El Paso, what he meant to that community and what his team meant to the community. That’s kind of what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to a smaller school and make it bigger than it should be.”

Knight said it’s probable that if he had not taken the Lamar job he most likely would have gone into television commentary. Because of the family name, he’d had feelers from someone in TV sports who had pretty much assured him of a job. That’s the way he was leaning.

“You don’t take a coaching job just to say you have one,” he said. “I turned down a couple of things when I got fired. My dad called me about a job that someone approached him about. I told him I didn’t have any interest. He said, ‘Son, you don’t have a job.’

“I gambled a little bit in that regard and it worked out. Sure, I could have gone another route and been an assistant again, but I wanted to prove myself as a head coach and Lamar was where I wanted to do it. Lamar was pretty much the only job I was serious about.”

The kind of coach Knight intends to be at Lamar, and why there are going to be rocky moments in year one, especially during the early part of the season, came across in his answer to a skeptic from Lake Charles. The fellow, having watched LU play last year, wondered about Knight’s professed desire to emphasize defense to returning players who mostly stood and waved at anyone with the basketball last year.

“You don’t play defense, you sit the bench,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. Mr. Pine solves a lot of problems. I’ve studied tapes and there wasn’t a whole lot of defense played. It’s hard to change bad habits. You have to teach every day. We are doing some very elementary drills. We’re having to start from square one.

“We may spend an hour and 45 minutes out of a two hour practice working on defense. The bottom line is if you want to play you have to defend. The players know that and they’ve been receptive.”

Indeed, senior guard Anthony Miles addressed that very issue after Tuesday night’s ragged 82-47 exhibition victory over St. Gregory’s.

“It’s different,” Miles said. “He’s trying to change our mentality. Since we didn’t play defense at all last year, you get bad habits. We’ve got to stick to the script. We will play hard and play defense or we won’t be out there.”

Knight, meanwhile, was underscoring on the conference call that he knows he doesn’t have all the answers and that his lack of ego enables him to ask plenty of questions of those who do have a lot of answers.

“I’ve been spoiled and blessed from the aspect that because of my dad I have a lot of coaching resources,” he said. “ I intend to use them, which is something I didn’t do enough of at Texas Tech. I talk to my dad every other day. I talked to coach Tubbs on Tuesday. Two weeks ago I called Tim Floyd (UTEP) about a drill. I had Matt Painter (Purdue) send me his practice tape.

“I can phone Rick Barnes at Texas with no problem. He’s sort of a mentor. I can call Bill Self at Kansas. One good thing about getting fired is it kind of humbles you, kind of opens your eyes. That’s why I’ve been leaning heavily on my resources since I came to Lamar. I know they can help make me a better coach.”

Knight’s revelations took up his allotted time, so there was not a single question about how his team with four returning starters shapes up. For the record, SLC coaches are picking Lamar third behind Northwestern State and McNeese State in the SLC East. The league’s sports information directors slotted the Cardinals second behind McNeese.

Two Cardinals — Devon Lamb and Mike James — were named to the pre-season all-conference second team.

“Really, none of the pre-season stuff means anything,” Knight said. “We have to challenge our guys as to why we weren’t picked first. That’s where we have to get to where everyone is thinking we’re a good team. Looking at the talent level, we have the talent. But now let’s see what we can do.”

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