Commitment to Education

Knight is demanding of his student-athletes both on the court and in the classroom



Like the line in the country music song about country music, Bob Knight was doing graduation rates when graduation rates weren't ...

Well, weren't even measured, or thought about as a measuring stick for the real achievement of a college basketball program.

Thirty years ago, when Knight had his first NCAA championship team at Indiana, he let it be known he was keeping a different kind of scorecard: how many players entered his program, stayed four years, and graduated.

The years passed, then the decades. The graduates neared 100. The exceptions totaled four. In 29 seasons at Indiana.

When the NCAA took up the accounting, the figuring was done differently - transfers and players who left school early to turn pro counted as non-graduates. The Knight-Indiana percentage dipped some - not as low as most fellow members of a conference where the transfer rate, like the national rate, hovered in the 33 to 35 percent range for basketball and Indiana was commonly a percentage point or two lower than the league and national averages.

Later, the NCAA picked up on a point Knight had made years before: the original school's academic responsibility for transfers extended only as far as the player's standing when he left. That altered percentages again, upward.

But the criterion Knight had used all along - graduation rate for players who stayed four years - never varied much at Indiana, and hasn't in his five seasons at Texas Tech.

Many of Knight's former players have gone onto play professional basketball, either in the NBA or overseas. Other players have gone into the work force and enjoyed highly successful careers.

Bill Cook, a Bloomington, Ind., entrepreneur who in 40 years built a $1,500 investment into a billion-dollar medical supplies business, is among the believers in Knight's basketball players. His company has four in high executive positions.

The chief financial officer of Cook, Inc. is CPA John Kamstra, a guard from Knight's first recruiting class at Indiana. "John is so conservative he squeaks," Cook said. "He makes a very good counterbalance to our other people. We're more aggressive in spending money than I think John would like."

Scott Eells, who played on Knight's 1979 NIT championship team, is executive vice president of operations, "second in charge of this company," Cook said. "He could be first except he just gravitates to operations. He loves to work with his hands, and he's very good with them. He thinks three-dimensional. That's rare.

"Scott has good management skills - he's very firm, fair, and he knows how to lead. If you could call any single person the leader, it's probably Scott.

"John's business doesn't lend itself to leadership. He's busy crunching numbers."

Chuck Franz has an NCAA championship ring from 1981. He entered IU in the same recruiting class with Isiah Thomas and dogged Thomas in scrimmages and practices throughout the next two seasons. Franz heads up computer operations for the vast Cook operation, which is worldwide.

Wayne Radford, who came out of inner-city Indianapolis, was the MVP on Indiana's 1978 Big Ten runner-up and NCAA tournament qualifier, then played a year in the NBA. "Wayne in himself is a story," Cook said. "I wanted Wayne in the worst way to work his way up in management. He wanted to be on the outside, he loved selling - and he was good at it. Still is. But he sat on an airplane too long with his legs crossed, developed phlebitis and it almost killed him, so he had to come in.

"But he's aggressive, and he's a competitor. They're all competitors, every one of them - they'll eat you alive. Their competitiveness is the driving force that makes them want to achieve. And these guys are bright people."

It adds up to extraordinary prominence for athletes in a strikingly successful corporation. And they're not just athletes, the man at the top says.

"You will notice they are Bob Knight athletes," Cook said. "If they could survive the Bob Knight School of Etiquette, they could survive anything.

"And it's very interesting," Cook said. "The 15th of October, whatever day it is, when college basketball teams can begin practice, those guys get together here in our building, close the door, and have a cigar.

"And I'm sure the stories fly."

Cook's corporate umbrella also reaches over the successful apartment-rental business college basketball's Player of the Year, Scott May, has built in Bloomington. A division of the corporation, Cook Financial Corporation, is involved with the business that May himself largely owns. "Scott is just a great businessman," Cook said.

May's son, Sean, won an NCAA ring to match his dad's by winning the Outstanding Player Award for his role in North Carolina's 2005 championship.

Scott May and Quinn Buckner, teammates on Knight-Indiana teams that went 86-6 in three seasons, are the only college basketball players ever to go 40-0 in one academic year while leading unbeaten teams to the top two amateur basketball championships available then: the NCAA tournament and Olympics. Buckner, an Indianapolis Pacers executive and TV broadcast analyst, also lives in Bloomington.

Knight's first two IU recruits were Dr. Steve Green, an All-Big Ten forward now an Indianapolis dentist, and Dr. Steve Ahlfeld, an Indianapolis surgeon. Another medical doctor, Frank Wilson, was a starting guard on Knight's first Indiana team. There are lawyers in the group, teachers, and many coaches. Iowa coach Steve Alford was the All-America guard on Knight's 1987 NCAA champions, and final-game hero Keith Smart, the other starting guard, also went into coaching. Not all the Knight-era Hoosiers in coaching were players. Lawrence Frank took notes and watched closely in four years as a manager at Indiana. Today he is the head coach of the NBA New Jersey Nets. Another former manager, Jon Jennings, got an NBA ring as an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics and later ran for Congress.

Clearly, the man who has reached a level in coaching victories that no other man in college basketball history can match achieved some notable things in other ways with those teams and players. Ask Bill Cook.

Bob Hammel is a former sports editor for the Bloomington (Ind.) Herald-Telephone.

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