Picks and Pans Review: Playing for Knight
by Steve Alford with John Garrity
As you read Alford's detailed memoir of his college basketball career at Indiana University under Coach Bobby Knight, other titles come to mind. Like Under the Lash. Or Glutton for Punishment.
Alford, now an NBA player for Golden State, confirms Robert Montgomery Knight's reputation as an exacting, maniacal perfectionist and a castigating disciplinarian. This martinet of the hardwood, perfectly capable of scheduling practice on Christmas Day, is prone to apoplexy when things don't go exactly according to plan. As Alford notes of a goodwill world tour the team took in the summer of 1985, "It was more interesting to see him get upset on foreign ground than it was back home, because there was always the possibility of an international incident." Disregarding the coach's storied tirades, the atmosphere Alford sketches sounds stultifying. Even pregame meals on the road never varied: "spaghetti, pancakes, hamburger patties, scrambled eggs and vanilla ice cream." It was served 3½ hours before each game, whether tip-off was at noon or 10 at night.
Driven and disciplined himself, Alford throve under this system. He accepted Knight's abuse, but, as a devout Christian, disliked the coach's profanity (which, he alerts us, he has expurgated from the book).
The pages drag when Alford, a Hoosier and a coach's son, recounts his life from the time he learned to dribble. The rest of the book is devoted to his time with Knight, which sounds more like a gauntlet than a college career. Because of Alford's forgiving attitude, his book is a useful corroboration of John Feinstein's 1986 book A Season on the Brink, which Knight denounced. Even though Alford is sympathetic, the picture he paints of Knight is of a disturbing, if fascinating, man. (Simon and Schuster, $19.95)
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