"The Master," in Ohio State coach Thad Matta's words, is an ESPN analyst, a noted pump-fake enthusiast, the legendary former coach at Indiana and, as of today, a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. Matta is, of course, talking about Bob Knight.
After Ohio State's dominant, alley-oop-filled romp against Indiana on Sunday -- which featured at least one tense exchange in a typically tense relationship between Matta and Indiana coach Tom Crean -- Matta credited Knight with a drill the Buckeyes used to improve their half-court defense. The Columbus Dispatch's Bob Baptist noted Knight's help in his game story Sunday:
"I reached out to the master," Matta said.
He called Bob Knight, who had no qualms about helping the coach of his alma mater beat the school that fired him 11 years ago after an unparalleled run of success.
"He gave me this defensive drill," Matta said. "Our players hate it, but I think it made us play a lot better." [...] "I've helped facilitate a few things for him, and he's (reciprocated). But he's like, 'Don't you tell anybody that I'm doing this,'" Matta said. "He wants us to do well. It's unbelievable. I love talking to him because, No.1, you get so much basketball-wise. And then you get a lesson in history. And then you laugh your (rear end) off because he's one of the funniest human beings I've ever talked to."
At first glance, all of this stuff seems pretty innocuous. Surely this isn't the first time a current coach has called on Knight -- let alone the other coaching legends still around the game -- for tactical help and philosophical guidance.
Whether it was actually innocuous is another matter entirely. Indiana blogger Kent Sterling saw it differently. To Sterling, "Matta was firing a scud missile right past Tom Crean's ear." It's not hard to parse the reasons for this reaction.
For one, Crean and Matta had that halftime confrontation, which stemmed from Crean's displeasure at Matta's pre-halftime conference with officials. The acrimony between the two coaches has a basis in history, too; Crean notably blew past Matta in the handshake line after Ohio State's win at Assembly Hall last season. During Indiana's decade of turmoil, Matta has recruited the state of Indiana better than any coach in the country, and Crean is now competing for (and getting some) of those elite Hoosier recruits.
In other words, in the eyes of Indiana fans, Matta wasn't just innocently relating a charming anecdote. He was making it clear that he can do something Indiana can't: get Bob Knight -- who won't come back to Bloomington even for a Hall of Fame induction -- on the phone. To the Indiana fan, Matta wasn't just sharing a whimsical story after a blowout, not to mention a blowout that featured 22 points from freshman Deshaun Thomas, an Indiana native named to the Indiana Associated Press All-Century High School team. To some Indiana fans, Matta was intentionally rubbing salt in a very open wound.
On the other hand, it's entirely possible Matta meant nothing by the comment, and entirely possible Indiana observers like Sterling are "bitterly and jealously" reading too much into the vagaries of competition. After all, Matta and Crean have been seen chatting amiably more than once since the handshake incident last season, and both coaches were polite and conciliatory during their postgame pressers Sunday. This might be much ado about nothing.
Either way, one thing's for sure: Ohio State was already fearsome enough without one of the greatest coaches of all-time as an informal consultant. With him, well, yikes. That's kind of scary.