Photo credit - Getty Images

Former IU basketball star A.J. Moye: Bob Knight said a ‘giraffe could coach 2002 team to Final Four’

Former IU basketball star A.J. Moye has never hidden his affection for former head coach Bob Knight.

While he eventually became a fan favorite in Bloomington while playing for Mike Davis, Moye was part of Knight’s final recruiting class — the class of 2000, and the one he never got to coach.

An assistant coach at the time under Knight, Davis was the IU coach leading the recruitment of Moye.

But it was Knight’s first visit to Moye’s home on an emotional day in the household that sealed the deal for Indiana and forged a bond that remains more than 20 years later.

It was something out of Moye’s control of course, but not getting the chance to play for Knight remains one of his greatest basketball regrets.

“To this day, I really, genuinely miss not playing for Coach Knight,” Moye told A.J. Guyton on the House of Hoosier podcast.  “I love all the coaches I had, but I really wanted to play for Coach Knight.

“You know why I went to IU.  I missed the fact that I didn’t get to play for him because I really went there to learn under him.  I wanted to get that tutelage and I really wanted to learn how to play the game how I thought was the right way.”

With a roster made up of several players that Knight recruited including Moye, Indiana went on to reach the 2002 national championship game with Davis as their head coach.

Since then it has been a common refrain among elements of the IU fan base that Davis’ magical 2002 run was only possible because he did it with Knight’s players, and Knight’s culture still omnipresent throughout the program.

“We were all hard-wired, tough-minded people,” Moye said of the 2001-02 squad, recalling attributes that brought to mind Knight.

As it so often is, the truth has always been somewhere in between when it comes to that 2002 run.

Was that 2001-02 team in many ways a reflection of Coach Knight, with gritty, hard-nosed players he recruited like Moye, Dane Fife, Tom Coverdale, Jeff Newton and Jared Jeffries?

Yes, of course it was.

Credit – IU Archives

But someone had to keep it all together, and that’s where Davis and his staff deserves plenty of credit.  No team is making a Final Four run without strong everyday leadership in the present.

And truth be told, Davis had made plenty of changes by the 2001-02 season.  For example, Knight’s motion offense was replaced with a voluminous binder of set plays.

It is fair to say that the 2002 Final Four run would not have happened without both Knight and Davis, and hundreds of untold moments involving both coaches over the course of the year and a half between Knight’s firing and the improbable trip to Atlanta.

But beyond instilling mental toughness, Knight’s greatest influence on the 2001-02 likely came in the days after he was fired.

Often chided from afar for being petty or shallow, it was Knight that encouraged the players to stay the course with Indiana — the school that he believed had just publicly humiliated him.

“He said ‘Hey guys, stay together.  I know you guys are going to be pulled in all different directions, but stay together,'” Moye recalled with Guyton Knight’s request of the players.

Knight knew that there would be pressure from families and other coaches to tear the team apart, and he could have stood by and watched it all happen.

That would have been all too easy for Knight, who later made his bitterness towards Indiana quite public before ultimately returning earlier this year.

But Knight was also well known for the bonds he developed with his players, and his desire to see them succeed outweighed the animosity he felt at the time towards IU.

And Knight knew that the team he was being forced to leave behind was special.

“He said a giraffe could coach this team to the Final Four,” Moye recalled.

That wasn’t a knock on his successor and former assistant Davis, just an acknowledgment that everything was in place for a big run.

And with that roster in place, along with their tough-minded mentality, and Davis somehow pushing all the right buttons — it did in fact all come together in 2002.

“That’s what he said, and we went out and did it,” Moye said.

Find us on Facebook:  thedailyhoosier

You can follow us on Twitter:  @daily_hoosier

The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”

Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no additional cost to you.