For 29 years, Bob Knight’s name was synonymous nationally with Indiana University.
But ever since he arrived at Ohio State in 1959, Bob Knight has been a Buckeye.
Tuesday, that point was driven home as Knight was honored by the university the same day the OSU men’s basketball team played Lamar, coached by Knight’s son Pat.
The elder Knight was the focal point of a 500-person luncheon held at the Ohio Union on Tuesday afternoon before being honored at halftime of the Ohio State victory against Lamar with a tribute video. Afterward, head coach Thad Matta said the 71-year-old Knight told him the day was a special one for the former point guard.
“At the luncheon today, Coach Knight told me it was one of the greatest days of his life,” Matta said. “For me personally and for Ohio State, it was an honor to have him back and a part of our program.”
For his part, Knight – who coached collegiately at Army and Texas Tech in addition to Indiana – regaled both crowds when given the microphone. He told similar stories of his love for Ohio State at each, though his banquet speech included more jokes and a little bit more of the saltier language he’s become known for at times during his career.
Either way, the Orrville, Ohio, native made his thoughts about his alma mater – for which he won the national title in 1960 – clear.
“There’s probably three different things I’ve been eternally grateful for,” he told the standing room only crowd at the union. “One, the opportunity to get an education here at Ohio State. That’s always meant a tremendous amount to me.
“And I think the players that I got to play with, that were before me, that were after me, that I got to know and play with. Some of which we lose track a little bit, but some of which we stay very close to each other. That was a second great experience for me.
“I think the third greatest experience and I think the most important thing that ever happened to me was playing for Coach Taylor.”
Former OSU coach Fred Taylor was the focal point of much of Knight’s speech, as the two remained close after Knight’s time on the Ohio State team until Taylor's passing. Taylor, a Hall of Famer who coached at Ohio State from 1959 until 1976, would later assist Knight on a squad that won the Pan American Games gold medal.
“Nothing in my lifetime has matched the feeling that I had for the opportunity to play for Coach Taylor,” Knight said. “Not just the fact that we won so many games but how I learned to prepare and how I learned what was important and how I learned about the game and what I learned as a player I was able to use as a coach.”
When it came to discussing coaches, Knight also took the time to laud current Matta and Urban Meyer for doing things the right way at a time when college athletics often makes the news for all the wrong reasons.
"I think right now, it's something very unique I believe in college athletics today that you are going to have two people -- one coaching your basketball team, the other your football team -- that are as absolutely adamant about playing by the rules and in doing so have both won more than a whole slew of guys that don't play by the rules," Knight said. "Rather than just be proud of the score and winning, you should be very, very proud that you have these two coahces coaching your football and basketball teams."
Knight also spent his time at the lectern during the luncheon – which was attended by some of the most popular players in OSU history as well as President E. Gordon Gee, athletic director Gene Smith and Meyer – regaling the crowd with jokes, including one about his hometown of Orrville.
Noting the fact that the city is home to the famous Smucker's preserves company, Knight said, “I once told Smucker's that I could have the best commercial they’ve ever had, and they asked me what it was. I said, ‘Well, here would be the commercial I would have for Smucker's: “I’ve been in jams all my life but none like Smucker's.” ’ ”
Of course, Knight was known for his firebrand temper, including the famous chair-throwing incident at IU’s Assembly Hall as well as remarks that often got the honest-to-a-fault coach in trouble.
On the other hand, he finished his coaching career with 902 wins, the most in NCAA history before his former player, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, passed him this fall. Knight also national titles in 1976, ’81 and ’87, reached two other Final Fours, won 11 Big Ten titles, captured the 1984 gold medal while coaching the United States Olympic team and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991.
“We’re proud of all of our alumni, but particularly those who coached national championship winning basketball teams, graduate 98 percent of his players and is inducted in the Hall of Fame,” Gee said at the luncheon. “Coach Knight, we are very proud of you. Congratulations. Bobby, welcome home.”
Knight was also feted by Matta, who professed for having a love for the coach growing up in Hoopeston, Ill., a small town just minutes from the Indiana border, while Knight was at the top of his game.
“As a young kid, I knew I wanted to coach because my father was a coach, and there was a guy down in Bloomington, Indiana, named Coach Knight who I began to follow,” Matta said. “It’s amazing, as Coach tells stories in the time I’ve spent with him, I know how they’re all going to end because I was such a follower of him.”
Matta added that those who spent time around Knight get to know four things about him: his love of history, his knowledge of basketball, his compassion for others and his sense of humor.
That was driven home after a story told by event emcee and former OSU star and broadcaster Bill Hosket, a friend of Knight’s. Hosket told about the time in December 1966 when Knight’s Army team came into St. John Arena and Ohio State squeaked out a 61-59 victory against a squad coached by Taylor that featured Hosket.
“We had never been guarded quite like that before, and we felt good just to survive,” Hosket said.
From his seat away from the podium, Knight immediately piped up, “When that game was over I talked to Coach Taylor, and he said, ‘You had a team play better defense than you ever played when I was your coach.’ ”