MINNEAPOLIS — Coach Bob Knight has succeeded to take the attention, as well as the pressure, off his Indiana team during the NCAA tournament. First, there was the controversy surrounding Knight's cancellation of an annual banquet in Bloomington, Ind., immediately after the Hoosiers' loss to Purdue at the end of the regular season.
Then the bullwhip incident in Albuquerque, where he playfully tapped Indiana forward Calbert Cheaney in the rear with a bullwhip bought for him by the players and given to him by his son, Pat, a member of the team. That raised complaints from both the NAACP in New Mexico and the Black Coaches Association.
But there is definitely a method to Knight's madness.
"Whenever coach does something, it has a purpose," said senior center Eric Anderson, who was benched prior to the NCAA tournament and emerged as the MVP of the West Regional. "We've been playing well since he started it, so I don't think he's going to stop."
That doesn't mean the players have to like it.
"I'm a little tired from all that stuff we're doing," he said.
Knight has spent most of his news conferences this week rambling on about one thing or another, usually with a sharp tongue firmly in his cheek. But in a rare moment of introspection Friday, Knight gave some clue as to what kind of role model he has been for some of his ex-players turned coaches -- notably Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.
Remembering an incident that took place when he was 12, Knight said he was watching a baseball game with his grandmother. She had fallen asleep, but woke up to say, "Everybody has a purpose in life if only to serve as an example to others of what not to do."
Said Knight: "I looked about and I was the only SOB in the room. I didn't know if she was talking to me, or talking to herself. I chose not to ask."
There has been much talk this week, as well as this season, about Michigan's so-called "Fab Five", the freshmen who made up the Wolverines' starting lineup for last night's game against Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament semifinals here at the Metrodome.
But how about the "Forgotten Five"?
They are the ex-starters, the upperclassmen who gave way to what was called, and turned out to be, the single most successful recruiting class in college basketball history. They are happy to be here, but not exactly happy the way things turned out.
"It's been very hard for me," said senior center Eric Riley, who started 26 of 28 games last year but finds himself backing up Chris Webber. "But we're winning, and that's the most important thing right now."
Riley saved Michigan with 15 points and 10 rebounds when Webber got into foul trouble in the Southeast Regional semifinals against Oklahoma last week in Lexington, Ky. Junior swingman James Voskuil playued a big role in Michigan's semifinal win over Cincinnati with nine points and four rebounds in 14 minutes.
But aside from that, neither he nor any of the other members of the "Forgotten Five" have played much since the freshmen took over 13 games and 11 victories ago. Voskuil gets in a little, as does senior captain Freddie Hunter. Junior point guard Michael Talley plays even less. Senior guard Kirk Taylor hasn't even played in the tournament.
"At times it's been difficult," said Voskuil, who started 14 games in each of the last two seasons. "But I don't think there's any animosity between the older guys and the younger guys. Before they got here, we didn't believe that they could be as good as their press clippings. But they've shown they are."
Said Michigan coach Steve Fisher: "All you have to do is watch our game against Oklahoma State to see how valuable Eric Riley is. They are all good kids, they all want to start and play more. Winning helps. I am proud of how our older kids have adapted and adjusted. They have supported our freshmen both on and off the court."
Some will say that many of those who started and played a great deal last year should be sitting this year, considering Michigan's 13-14 finish. But Talley, who averaged 11 points and started every game last season, still believes he can do the job.
"Now is not the time to say anything," said Talley. "It's been very hard, but you shouldn't rock the boat. I'm enjoying the fact that we're here in the Final Four. I love to win as much as anyone, but I have to take care of my future. I don't know where I'll be next year."
The Michigan team had a surprise visitor before they left Ann Arbor earlier this week. Hint: it wasn't Bill Frieder. Another hint: Bo knows hoops.
Bo Schembechler, the Wolverines' former football coach who as the school's athletic director told Frieder to take a hike before the 1989 NCAA tournament, then hired Fisher after Michigan beat Seton Hall in the final, gave this group a similar pep talk to the one he delivered three years ago.