INDIANAPOLIS – For many of this nation's – and even Great Britain's – best prep basketball players, Fort Wayne will be a final destination for the 2012 summer recruiting calendar this week. Spiece Fieldhouse will serve as the primary facility for the Gym Rats Basketball Association National Championships beginning today and running through Sunday.
The tournament will host more than 200 teams from 12 states, including many of the best players from Indiana, as well as a couple of countries. More than 200 collegiate basketball programs are expected to be in attendance, and Lamar University very well may be one of those. Cardinal coach Pat Knight recently said coming back to this state in search of talent will be a regular item on his work schedule.
“We will always come up to Indiana and recruit,” Knight said. “I love getting back here, so you'll see me up here a lot.”
Knight took over the Lamar program a year ago after three-plus seasons as the head coach at Texas Tech. The former Indiana University player and assistant coach made an immediate impression on the court and off it.
The Cardinals struggled at times this past season, but after Knight lambasted his team for poor play, poor work ethic, poor, well, just about everything was poor, the team won six straight games and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Lamar finished 23-12, and Knight hopes for more of the same but with a different type of player, or at least a different location for finding those players.
“It takes time to build a culture (of success), especially in Texas,” Knight said.
When asked why that was, he, being a Knight, didn't mince words.
“Football,” Knight said succinctly. “It's the flip side of what basketball is in Indiana, football is in Texas. If I can always get one or two kids from Indiana, then I'm going to do it. My goal would be to have half of my roster from Indiana, because they know how to play.”
The Cardinals didn't have any Indiana kids on their roster when Knight was hired, but that changed with his first recruiting class and he is adamant that it will continue to do so. Indianapolis natives Donnell Minton (Northwest High School) and Jason Smith (Manual High School) will be freshmen with the Cardinals this season.
“(Indiana kids) are special,” Knight said. “There is a difference. There is a difference in the high school coaching and there is a difference with the AAU programs.”
In addition to bringing in Indiana players, Knight felt that it was imperative to have an assistant who could recruit this state.
When Marion High School and Notre Dame graduate Joseph Price left Lamar to take over as head coach at Grambling this spring, Knight replaced him with former Indiana Mr. Basketball Sherron Wilkerson.
Knight said that while at Texas Tech, basketball wasn't appreciated by the fans and the university to the degree that he and his father, former Indiana and Texas Tech coach Bob Knight, expected when they arrived in Lubbock.
“It took my dad a lot of getting used to,” Knight said. “You've got to be at a place that appreciates basketball. There are some schools in Texas that are just never going to appreciate (basketball).”
Knight said you shouldn't count Lamar as one of those universities. He credited former Cardinal coaches Billy Tubbs and Pat Foster for building a fan base and community culture that understands – and appreciates – the sport.
“I inherited a place that likes basketball,” Knight said. “That is one of the reasons that I took the job. I was not going to take another job where they didn't care about basketball.”