Cardinals in SLC tourney for 1st time since 2008

Pat Knight’s epic rant after a recent loss by Lamar made it

sound like he was coaching the worst team in college

basketball.

The reality is Knight’s Cardinals are good. The coach didn’t

like the way they were slacking off and the premeditated tirade was

an unconventional way to get them back on track.

”These guys respond to drastic measures,” Knight said in a

recent interview with The Associated Press. ”I told the staff:

`I’m going to call them out and I’m going to take a bunch of heat

for it. But it doesn’t matter.”’

It would seem unlikely that saying he had the ”worst group of

seniors” and accusing them of ”stealing money by being on

scholarship” after a 10-point loss to Stephen F. Austin on Feb. 22

would motivate a team.

But it did.

The Cardinals have won three straight since then to finish with

the Southland Conference East Division title and the school’s first

20-win season in 24 years.

In his first season at Lamar, after being fired by Texas Tech

last March, Knight has led Lamar to its first appearance in the

Southland tournament since 2008.

”We’re a little hardheaded and you have to handle situations

differently,” said senior point guard Anthony Miles, the

Southland’s player of the week for last week. ”He said what he

said and some of the words were surprising, but … he got our

attention and we responded in a good way. Am I glad that he said

it? No. But he motivated us in a way that we hadn’t been motivated

in a (long time).”

Many thought Knight’s rant made him sound like his hot-tempered

father, Bob Knight, the former coach at Indiana and Texas Tech.

But even the man who became infamous for throwing a chair across

the court while protesting officiating during a game in 1985,

wasn’t exactly on board with his son’s antics.

”`I don’t necessarily agree with what you did, but I understand

why you did it,”’ Pat said his father told him. ”He was so happy

it worked but said: `Don’t do it again.”’

Lamar is 20-11 this season, a seven-game improvement from last

season.

Knight followed his father at Texas Tech but couldn’t replicate

his success in three full seasons with the red Raiders.

He was hired by Lamar, a Gulf Coast school of about 14,500, in

April. He said there was a ”huge negative mind frame” around the

program when he arrived and he wanted to erase that with fans,

recruits and most importantly players.

”They’re going to leave here winners,” he said. ”When people

look back they’ll be like: `Hey that team got their heads in the

right direction. They made Lamar basketball relevant again.”’

His senior-laden team likes being Knight’s first at Lamar and

the players hope they can add to their accomplishments this

season.

”It’s been kind of a bumpy road,” senior Mike James said.

”We’ve gone through our ups and downs, but at the end of the

season we’ve came alive so you can’t complain. It’s definitely good

to be remembered and it’s just a lot of stuff that we can be proud

of after we leave.”

Knight knows he didn’t win enough at Texas Tech, compiling a

50-61 record in three-plus seasons. Still, he believes there were

things he did that were as damaging as the losses.

”I put up with too much B.S. around my program and I coached

scared,” Knight said. ”What I mean when you coach scared is that

you’re worried about the consequences instead of the result, so you

sometimes won’t do some things. And I said I would never do that

again.”

That’s why he didn’t hesitate to call out his players when they

were not only not playing hard, but also missing meetings and study

sessions and showing up late to other team functions.

He knows he probably would have been suspended or his team would

have rebelled if he did anything like this at a bigger school.

”But here at a smaller level, these kids are tougher kids and

they appreciate it more,” he said. ”I knew deep down that they

would respond and I happened to be right.”

The freedom to run a program his way is something he never

experienced at Tech, where he worked as an assistant to his father

for seven seasons before being promoted. He said taking over that

program wasn’t a ”good deal” for him.

Knight saw what was coming when the Red Raiders were heading for

a 13-19 record last year and cleaned out his office in January

because he didn’t want to come back and do it when he was

eventually fired.

Though it didn’t work out, the 41-year-old learned many lessons

from his time at the school.

”Never take over for a legend and never take over as the

assistant, especially at a bigger school,” he said. ”I was the

good guy for seven years and everyone comes to me. Now I’ve got to

switch roles. Everybody still looks at me as the good guy, so

administration doesn’t treat you like a head coach, players

don’t.”

He was done with being an assistant after he was let go, but

knew he had to choose his next head coaching job carefully because

”if you screw the next one up, you’re done.” Knight picked Lamar

because he thought the Cardinals had the talent in place to win

immediately, and he loves the chip on the shoulder attitude of

lesser recruited players.

He’s much happier at Lamar and he considers it his ”first

real” head coaching job and says he’ll never coach at a big school

again.

”Coming in here as the head coach you get totally treated

differently,” he said. ”There’s a respect level that’s different

and what you say goes. Plus I’m not following my dad. I have a

chance to put my own stamp on the program. This program is

mine.”

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t lean on his father for help and

advice. He’s had him visit the team a couple of times and even put

him on the phone with Miles a few times last week to reiterate

points that he’d made to the senior.

”My dad is probably one of the biggest allies I have when it

comes to feedback and just how to deal with things,” Knight said.

”Some people may think that I don’t talk to him. But I don’t have

an ego. I’m trying to win so I use him even more so than I probably

did at Tech. It’s nice having him in my corner. He understands and

the great thing is he’s not a yes man.”

The Cardinals face Northwestern State in the first round of the

Southland tournament on Wednesday and are looking to win the

tournament to secure an automatic NCAA bid, which would be the

school’s first since 2000.

Knight was already thinking about the conference tournament when

he attacked his team and needed to make it understand that goals

remained after earning a spot in it.

”If we play that way once we’re in the tournament we’re done,”

he said. ”I thought I needed to do something drastic because I

know how good these guys can be. Now if they were a mediocre bunch

or we weren’t having a very good year, there would have been no

sense in trying to do this. But these guys still had a lot to play

for.”