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Buckeye friends recall the magic of Bobby Knight

The coaching legend honed his skills on one of Ohio State’s most famous teams. It included several future NBA players and won multiple national championships.

In a 1960 basketball game, three players jump high off the court to lay up and block a shot. Three more players on the ground box out opponents or prepare in case there’s the chance to rebound. Four of the six are Ohio State players—the others are from Purdue. Five of the six are white men; one Ohio State player is black. They’re all tall and think and focused on the ball.

In a 1960 game against Purdue, Buckeyes, from left, Mel Nowell, John Havlicek, Bobby Knight (24) and Jerry Lucas go all in. (Photo from University Archives)

The first of Bobby Knight’s four national titles came in 1960 as a key reserve on the Ohio State men’s basketball team, one of the most talented squads in college basketball history.

“That was such a great group of guys,” says Gary Gearhart ’62, “and we all stayed in touch over the years.” Gearhart and Knight ’62 met on their first day as freshmen in 1958. “We were roommates and met in our room in Baker Hall. Bobby was so easy to get along with — we talked about basketball, hunting and fishing — and we were friends ever since.”

Knight, 83, died November 1, 2023, leaving a legacy as one of the winningest college basketball coaches of all time, albeit sometimes a controversial one.

Knight compiled a 902–371 record over 42 years at Army, Indiana University and Texas Tech. At Indiana, he won three national championships and 11 Big Ten regular-season titles. Knight coached the U.S. men’s team to Olympic gold in 1984, and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

At Ohio State, Knight was part of a freshman class that included Jerry Lucas ’62, John Havlicek ’62 and Mel Nowell ’64, all of whom played in the NBA, as did upperclassman Larry Siegfried ’62, ’77 MA. They beat the University of California, Berkeley, 75–55 to take the national crown under Coach Fred Taylor ’50. The Buckeyes and Knight reached the championship game the next two seasons as well, losing each time to the University of Cincinnati.

Dick Furry ’60 was a senior and co-captain of the 1960 team. “That first year [the winter of 1958–59], Fred Taylor asked the six of us who lived in Columbus to take someone home with us so they wouldn’t have to stay in an empty dorm, and I drew Bobby,” Furry says. “He later wrote in one of his books that I was the one who taught him how to tie a tie.” 

Knight’s former teammates say they could tell from the start he had the potential to be a great coach. “He was always breaking down the game and talking about it afterwards,” Gearhart says, recalling that Knight consistently thought he should have had more playing time.

“There’s no doubt in my mind he’s one of the better basketball coaches we’ve had in this world,” Furry adds. Gearhart goes one step further: “I think he’s the best basketball coach who ever lived. With his knowledge of the game, he was in a league by himself.”

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