Why I Love Knight School
I want to talk about Knight School today, but first, two notes on ridiculous plays from last night's Duke-Georgia Tech game. And yes, both are directly attributable to Duke's talent:
1) Anyone else see Duke's Josh McRoberts on the play where he stole the ball, and started a fastbreak where he dribbled behind his back twice in succession as two separate defenders cut him off, before pulling off a bit because Duke didn't have numbers? If I had seen Chris Paul or Raymond Felton do this last year, I would have been blown away at the moves. But Duke's power forward pulling this out? That's just not fair.
2) Second ridiculous moment of the game was a moment when Sheldon Williams had the ball on the block, and began to fake a cross-court pass to J.J. Redick, who was standing behind the three point line. Two Georgia Tech defenders bought the fake, forgetting that Williams was standing one small leap from an uncontested dunk, which is how the play eventually ended. Kind of a nice luxury to have a player so deadly from behind the arc that defenders forget that there's an All-American candidate standing two feet from the hoop ready to dunk the ball.
Enough about that, though: On to Knight School:
A couple days ago, I noted that after only one episode, I’m hooked on Knight School, the ESPN reality show about Bobby Knight conducting walk-on try-outs at Texas Tech. Undoubtedly, there will be lots more to say about the show as time goes on, but today I’d like to lay out exactly what I thought was so outstanding about the show. For me, it boils down to two separate reasons.
First and foremost, the idea of sports reality shows is a concept that is still largely untapped by television producers, and Knight School is one of the first forays into this genre. In a lot of ways, that’s sort of a surprise, since sports seems so naturally suited for reality TV treatment. After all, even if the cameras aren’t documenting it, Bobby Knight’s still going to have to make cuts during walk-on try-outs. The same can’t be said of a show like, say, The Bachelor (which I’ve never seen, by the way), which is totally contrived. I can’t say that I’ve ever had a friend who was in a situation where he had a set amount of time and a set group of 20 women from which to choose his mate.
Given that there are few sports reality shows, the only thing that I can think to compare Knight School to is WWE Tough Enough, a guilty pleasure of mine from a few years back (and a show that once featured former UWM basketball star Chad Angeli as a contestant). Both shows have basically the same elements–a group of fresh-faced hopefuls, a veteran teacher who holds all the answers, intense physical and mental obstacles to overcome, and perhaps the only truly contrived facet of the sports reality genre, everyone living in the same house. The prizes are similarly underwhelming, as well, with the winners of Tough Enough receiving a contract to be a WWE wrestler, a job that entails constant travel and physical abuse, and the winner of Knight School earning the right to be berated by Bobby Knight in practice for a year. Thus, the drive by any of the participants on either of these shows is tough to understand on a logical level. However, that’s sort of the great thing about these shows. While in your head you know that the winners of each of these shows get a prize that very few people would want, the inner athlete in you also sort of understands why they compete so hard for the prize. This is also the reason that I’m sort of shocked we haven’t seen more sports-based reality shows. If a guy like me, who hasn’t even watched pro wrestling since he was 12 years old, can have an emotional reaction to contestants on a pro-wrestling reality show, just imagine how easy to watch Knight School, and other eventual imitators will be.
The second thing that I love about this show is the glimpse that it gives us into the world of Bobby Knight. Though he’s not one of the competitors, make no mistake–Knight’s the star of this show. And rightfully so, because he’s an interesting guy. You can’t not have an opinion on Bob Knight. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Knight, and have always found him to be an obnoxious bully. Knight School, however, does a wonderful job of showing the complexity of Bobby Knight. Certainly there are things on the show that reinforce my dislike of Knight. In particular, I loved/hated the scene where he’s asking his assistants for numbers of players that they would cut, and explodes on two of them for reading their numbers too fast, sarcastically noting that he’s not a stenographer. Thereafter, he further expresses his displeasure that numbers are not being given to him in numerical order, despite his giving no prior instructions to read the numbers in this way. He blows the entire situation way out of proportion. That’s the obnoxious bully Knight.
But the genius coach and teacher Knight is in there, as well. As much as someone like me might dislike Knight, they’d be a fool if they could not see that the guy is remarkably impressive. Knight’s command of the floor, and creativity stand out as his strengths. It’s hard to explain, but seeing Knight on the floor with this group of walk-ons, you could tell that he just has a presence that commands respect. It goes beyond the fact that he’s Bobby Knight, a legendary big-name coach. It’s related to a deeper command of the game, and of people that he has. He exudes confidence. The fact that this confidence gives him such control over situations is perhaps what leads to such intense outbursts when he cannot control things.
His creativity in teaching is unbelievable, too. You see Knight do things that you can’t imagine lots of other coaches doing. Two moments stick out to me. The first is when Knight sits his candidates down, hands out copies of Rudyard Kipling’s poem "If," reads a few stanzas, and tells the team to study it for a discussion that they’re going to have the next day. Not exactly a tradition basketball drill, but a great lesson in the making, nonetheless (Of course, in my mind it also didn’t hurt that "If" is perhaps the only poem in the history of mankind that I enjoy.). The next moment that stands out is when Knight is going over basic concepts with his players, and he has them standing at halfcourt with notepads, taking notes. Again, I can’t imagine that this is something that tons of division one coaches (or coaches at any level, for that matter) do. How often is it, after all, that you see a guy in mesh shorts and a practice jersey taking notes on a basketball court? But you can’t help but think that on some level this helps to drive home the learning process to the players, even if they never look at those notes again. Of course, you also see Knight in more traditional coaching moments, like when he’s showing players how to "protect your balls" when setting screens. So he can pull of the basics, in addition to the above-and-beyond devices that he’s able to imply. You might not like him, but if you can’t see the brilliance that exists within Knight, then you’re just refusing to open your eyes.
So needless to say, I’ve already set my DVR box to record the entire season of Knight School. Not only is it a show that I think will be a precursor to most future sports reality shows, it is a look at one of the most interesting personalities in all of sports. As with any reality TV show, it’s probably not be a completely honest look at the people involved, but it’s as close as I’m ever going to get to sitting in on a Bobby Knight practice, so I’ll take it. Here’s waiting for the next installment on Sunday night.