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Gary Sims & Curt Simic remember time with Coach Knight

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Edgewood, Bloomington North, Bill Springer

Area coaches cherish their time spent alongside Bob Knight

It would be a cold day in hell before Gary Sims would to let down Bobby Knight. So a freezing night in Kansas? Not a chance.

During the winter of 1980, Sims, now Edgewood’s girls’ basketball coach, was a student manager for the Indiana University men’s basketball team. It was a job he never coveted until his high school coach, Bill Springer, suggested he apply for in the summer of 1978.

“It’s one of the highlights of my life,” Sims said, following the death of Knight on Wednesday at age 83.

Sims was there the season IU won the national title in 1981 and on Dec. 23, the Hoosiers were headed to Manhattan, Kansas to play Kansas St. Then they’d hop a flight to Chicago and on to Hawaii for the Rainbow Classic.

There wasn’t enough room on the IU Foundation plane, so Knight handed the keys to his car to Sims so he and three other managers could make the trip. While the game was going on, an ice storm hit and as luck would have it, Sims was supposed to drive the game film to a processor in Topeka, 40 miles away on I-70.

“They were telling people don’t go on the road,” Sims said. “But we were not going to tell Coach Knight that. We had a job to do.”

They set off and cars were sliding off the road everywhere. It wasn’t long before Sims joined them, doing a complete 360 in Knight’s car and ending up in the median. The car was facing the right way, still, Sims said, so they kept going, arriving at the film processor’s place at midnight.

They made it back to the team’s hotel by 3:30 a.m. with the four rolls of developed film. They kept the story of their adventure to themselves. The main thing was they were not going to let Knight down.

Back then, Sims noted, the student managers did a lot of things the director of basketball operations does nowadays, including handling stipend money

and being in charge of transportation. If you were in charge of getting the bus lined up to meet the plane, you prayed it would be there or you’d get an earful, Sims said.

The end of that Christmastime adventure saw the Hoosiers lose their last two games in Hawaii to Clemson and Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

“I was the first guy coach saw in the locker room after the game and he turns to me and says, ‘You get us the earliest flight out of here you can,’” Sims said in an email. “No more sightseeing for us! We flew out at 2:30 in the morning. I was up 44 hours straight. Hard to believe that team went on to win the National Championship.”

Bob Knight ‘wanted everyone around him to be better’ Being a student manager for Knight was tough, but the things he demanded, such as being early (not on time), doing things the right way and taking responsibility, were much appreciated by them later on. And that’s in addition to the coaching insights they were able to soak up firsthand.

Curt Simic, former basketball coach at Bloomington North and Edgewood, was just grateful for the opportunity when he came back to his home state after a short stay playing at UC-Davis. He was a manager from 1989-93.

“I knew I wanted to coach and what better opportunity to observe and learn the game,” said Simic, who was appropriately enough at Assembly Hall for the IU women’s game Wednesday when he heard the news. “I had received (the book) ‘Season on the Brink’ as a birthday present and I read it all in one night.

“It was fascinating, being a native Hoosier, you always had a feeling of what it would be like, but it was nothing compared to seeing it up close.”

While the world often saw a gruff, smart-aleck coach who harangued referees and jousted with the sports media, Sims and Simic saw a much different side of him on a day-to-day basis.

“The opportunity was tremendous,” Simic said. “The things he expected from the players were the same for us, to be honest, have integrity, to work. He wanted to make us better, just like he wanted everyone around him to be better. His expectations were to get the most out of you.

“It was the most unforgettable experience. I’m just glad I could be a small part of it.”

For Simic, it was about the people he met and not just those within the program like Calbert Chaney and trainer Tim Garl. He’s still in awe when he thinks of the day he and the other managers were prepping for practice when he looked over and there’s Knight with former coaches Hank Iba and Pete Newell talking strategy.

“We’re in the relationship business as teachers and coaches,” Simic said. “(Knight) was always very good to me. You find yourself thinking about key teaching points and quotes and you remember them in his voice.”

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