Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s profession has helped him develop friendships with a Who’s Who of college basketball coaches.
The list includes retired coaches with one or multiple national championship rings: Roy Williams, Jay Wright, Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim. Few stays in touch with Bill Self, Tom Izzo, John Calipari and Scott Drew, all with net-cutting experience in April, and highly successful colleague Rick Barnes.
So it stands to reason Few’s and Bob Knight’s paths crossed, maybe not as often as the aforementioned coaches, but more than just the pre- and post-game handshakes they exchanged when their teams clashed in 2005 and 2007.
“I did interact a lot (with Knight), just because he had heard I was a fly fisherman and he was a big fly fisherman,” Few recalled after Gonzaga’s 96-58 rout over Lewis-Clark State in an exhibition game Friday.
Knight, who guided Indiana to three national titles but was involved in several controversies on and off the court during his Hall of Fame career, passed away last Wednesday. He was 83.
Topics typically discussed – basketball and fishing – were passions held in high regard by Knight and Few.
“He invited me to go to Russia with him a couple times, go to Alaska with him a couple times, meet him in Montana,” Few said. “We never did (get out on the river). The schedules didn’t work out, and that’s probably a big regret on my part. We talked about it a lot, just never figured it out.”
Knight was forced out at Indiana after a series of incidents, the last when he grabbed the arm of a freshman student who had greeted him by his last name. He took over at Texas Tech in 2001-02 and led the team to three NCAA Tournaments in his first four seasons.
The Red Raiders upset the third-seeded Zags 71-69 at the McKale Center in Tucson in the second round in 2005. Gonzaga led most of the way but couldn’t hang on.
“If we had been beaten today, it would have been disappointing,” Knight said following the victory. “I would be out fishing – I won’t be now – and I would have been reflecting on what a wonderful experience it has been with this team, picked by nobody.”
The sixth-seeded Red Raiders were hard-nosed and resourceful – two traits of Knight-coached teams – and eventually solved one of several zone defenses employed by the Zags. Texas Tech took the lead with 70 seconds remaining.
“We were up 13 early in the second half and went to a zone and they just started playing better,” said former Gonzaga standout Adam Morrison, who scored a team-high 25 points in the setback, shortly before donning a headset as a GU radio analyst for Friday’s exhibition. “Yeah, tough loss.”
Gonzaga ran into Texas Tech in the semifinals of the 2007 Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage. The 14th-ranked Zags stumbled offensively in a 73-63 loss to the unranked Red Raiders.
Knight led Texas Tech to 138 wins and four NCAA Tournaments before resigning during his seventh season. He was replaced by his son Pat.
“I’m close with Pat,” Few said. “Pat brought out one of (Bob’s) favorite fly rods and gave it to me last fall, which I thought was really cool that his dad wanted me to have it.”
Knight finished with 902 wins, sixth in Division I history, over 42 seasons. Few enters his 25th season with 688 wins, 37th on the list.
“I actually got to spend some time with him (after) his coaching career,” Few said. “We ended up doing a couple of Nike clinics together and we ended up in the green together hanging out talking and that was fun.”
Knight led Indiana to a 32-0 record in 1976 to claim his first national championship. Gonzaga made a run at becoming the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana by winning 31 straight before falling to Baylor in the 2021 title game in Indianapolis.
“You can see (the Zags) are seasoned, they can play and they play with poise,” Quinn Buckner, a standout guard for the 1976 Hoosiers, told The Spokesman-Review prior to the 2021 Final Four. “They understand how to play. Coach Knight had this great saying that the mental (part) to the physical was 4 to 1. You can see it when Gonzaga plays.”
Knight also coached Team USA to a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, sparking some controversy when he kept Indiana’s Steve Alford on the roster over future Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and John Stockton.