EVANSVILLE — Bob Knight made a lasting impression on basketball, on coaching, and on how many Hoosiers still approach life.
The legendary coach, who won three national championships at Indiana and retired with the most all-time wins in Division I men’s basketball, died on Wednesday at 83 after battling health issues in recent years. The outpouring of remembrance was overwhelming.
Knight’s coaching career spanned more than four decades and included stops at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech, but much of his time was spent in Southern Indiana. Let’s take a look at five times he crossed paths with Evansville.
Mentoring future University of Evansville coach Jim Crews
Before spearheading the Evansville men’s basketball revitalization during the 1980s and ’90s, Jim Crews spent 13 years in Bloomington learning from Knight.
He was recruited out of high school to play for Knight at IU by a young assistant named Mike Krzyzewski and immediately benefited from an NCAA rule change that allowed freshmen to compete. IU went 108-12 during his four years, including a Final Four run as a freshman and a national championship as a senior during the perfect 1975-76 season.
Then he joined Knight’s staff a year after graduation, spending another eight seasons as an assistant coach in charge of scheduling and recruiting. IU won another title in 1981. By 1985, Knight felt Crews was ready to be a head coach and sold UE athletics director Jim Byers on him as the right man for the job.
Crews coached the Purple Aces from 1985-2002, leading them to four NCAA tournament appearances and a pair of NIT berths. He was a four-time conference coach of the year and finished with 294-209 overall record.
Evansville men’s basketball: Why the Aces had their best run in Division I under Jim Crews
The Marty Simmons connection
Marty Simmons played two years for Knight at Indiana but didn’t live up to the promise he showed as an Illinois high school basketball star. Because he wasn’t seeing much playing time with the Hoosiers, he decided to transfer elsewhere in 1985.
He ended up following his assistant coach to Evansville as Crews made a splash during his first offseason, also adding Scott Haffner from Illinois. All three now have their own banner hanging from the rafters inside Ford Center.
NCAA rules required the transfer duo to redshirt for the ’85-86 season as UE went just 9-19. The next year, Simmons and Haffner propelled UE to a Midwestern Collegiate Conference championship. In Crews’ third year, they led them to the National Invitation Tournament for the first time.
Simmons put his imprint on the Aces’ program in just two years. He ended his senior season sixth in the nation with 25.9 points per game and finished ninth in AP Player of the Year voting. He later was an assistant coach at UE from 1990-96, returned from ’97-2002 and finally took over the program in 2007.
Simmons coached the Aces for 11 seasons, compiling a 184-175 overall record.
Recruiting Harrison standout Calbert Cheaney
The pride of Harrison High School as a willowy 6-foot-7 lefthander with a silky-smooth jumper, Calbert Cheaney remains the Big Ten’s career scoring leader with 2,613 points now 30 years later.
Yet, he almost never wore crimson and cream.
As the story goes, in the late 1980s, Knight showed up on a rare evening when Cheaney had a bad night. Knight was upset with his assistants for dragging him to see a player he didn’t think was good enough for IU. So, they stopped recruiting him.
Cheaney instead committed before his senior year of high school to the University of Evansville, coached by Crews. At least, that was until Knight saw Cheaney play again. This time, the Harrison standout caught his eye and IU’s staff reopened their recruitment.
Cheaney flipped from UE to IU and that caused a rift between Knight and Crews, who felt his recruit was basically stolen away from the Aces.
Hoosiers vs. Purple Aces
Knight’s Hoosiers later played Crews’ Purple Aces five times, all in the 1990s. Each was an IU victory.
In 1994, the Aces were coming off a pair of NCAA tournaments and one NIT appearance over the previous three seasons. IU added UE to the schedule to end a nearly 60-year hiatus between the programs, and they met four more times over the next three years.
The Hoosiers’ only visit to Roberts Stadium came in 1995, a dominant 76-48 win. But perhaps the most memorable meeting happened the next year at Madison Square Garden, where the Aces nearly upset the No. 20-ranked Hoosiers in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals.
IU survived a scare when Andrae Patterson sank a turnaround baseline jumper at the buzzer for the win. After the game, Knight told reporters: “It was just a shame we won. In my book, we got beat.”
The teams played again three weeks later at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, where IU coasted to a 75-57 win. The Aces visited Assembly Hall in 1997 to face Knight for the final time.
Over the years, Knight made a few speaking appearances in town as well.
He headlined a fundraiser at Old National Events Plaza in 2008 to help out Cheaney and candidly addressed a crowd of 1,000 people for more than an hour and a half. He had resigned as Texas Tech’s coach earlier that year but notably told the crowd in Evansville he would “never say never” about the possibility of coaching again.
Knight returned to the Old National Events Plaza again in 2016 to speak at a rally for Donald Trump, who was campaigning for president.
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: 5 connections between Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight and Evansville