Innovative motion offense a trademark of Bob Knight’s legacy


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Dusty May started his student manager career doing Indiana’s dirty work.

Between wiping up sweat, filling water bottles and grabbing rebounds, he took enough mental notes to stake a coaching career on what he learned working for Bob Knight. After taking Florida Atlantic to its first Final Four in 2023, May, like Knight once was, is considered one of America’s top young coaches.

The secret to May’s success is using the same fundamentals he learned during a four-year apprenticeship with Knight.

No, it’s not the same motion offense Knight popularized in the 1970s, but May didn’t just chuck out a playbook and start over. He took the one created by the Hall of Fame coach who won three national championships and 902 games and added his own touch.

“The principles on offense of playing your man and on defense playing the ball, that’s essentially our philosophy as well,” the 46-year-old May said after the 2023 NCAA Tournament wrapped up. “We incorporate how to read screens, how to read defenders, a lot of the same principles. But we don’t run the same motion offense.”

For Knight, who died at his Bloomington, Indiana, home on Wednesday at age 83, his offense may be the most lasting piece of an indelible legacy. For decades, players and coaches tried to defeat Knight’s fluid, weaving masterpiece.

When they couldn’t, they copied it.

The simple notion of passing, cutting and screening was mixed with complex reads that took time to learn and perfect, and required opponents to do as much as work as Knight demanded from his own players.

“The tendency for me was to stand and be an outlet and he was constantly on me about cutting. It’s just pass and cut,” said Quinn Buckner, a captain on Knight’s 1975-76 undefeated national championship team. “It’s not what other people were running back then, which means you had to work as a coaching staff on something very different. So as much as it helped us, it challenged other coaches.”

After running a side-to-side offense with screens at Army, Knight borrowed elements from Pete Carril’s cutting offense at Princeton, added some passing details he picked up from Pete Newell at the 1972 Olympic trials and then introduced his version at Indiana.

When his first Hoosiers team played at Hinkle Fieldhouse in December 1971, Butler star guard Billy Shepherd thought Indiana’s offense looked awfully familiar. Bulldogs coach Tony Hinkle, creator of the orange basketball, had been running something dubbed the fifth way for decades.

Knight’s wrinkle changed everything, possibly even the result of that game: Indiana 85, Butler 74.

“Knight’s system was similar in philosophy in terms of getting good shots, but his system was more about screening away from the ball whereas coach Hinkle’s system was more about screening on the ball,” said Shepherd, the 1968 Indiana Mr. Basketball. “Then in the late ’70s and ’80s and ’90s, that became prominent — what coach Knight was doing.”

Knight’s offense became so trendy he literally wrote a guide on it called “Motion Offense” in 1975. The 29-page manual contained strategies to play winning basketball, complete with diagrams; the next season, Indiana went 32-0 despite sharing the details. May still has a copy.

At times, it seemed everyone wanted to take a page out of Knight’s playbook.

Bob Huggins authored his own tome while coaching at Cincinnati. Knight’s son, Pat, used it during his head coaching career at Texas Tech and Lamar. Explanatory videos can still be found online and Knight’s own two-video set is still available for purchase, too.

But Knight’s footprint went deeper than just offense, according to May and Nevada coach Steve Alford, co-captain of Knight’s 1987 championship team.

“He really changed college basketball. You look at the motion offense and people everywhere used it. Then they started to get away from it, and now it’s coming back,” Alford said. “I molded everything we do from practices to academics to community service, how you represent the school around what coach Knight did.”

May followed a similar script at FAU and also occasionally gets advice from other Knight pupils. Mike Davis, Knight’s successor at Indiana, spoke to the Owls in November. Tom Abernethy, a starter on Knight’s undefeated Indiana team and the father of FAU assistant Todd Abernethy, is only a phone call away.

May saw the offense evolve as he climbed the ranks at Indiana, eventually cutting tape and working on scouting reports. Those study sessions gave May a glimpse into how the motion offense could change over time; he said he has found success with a new approach.

“It’s similar in that our guys making reads instead of just reading patterns,” May said. “We don’t run true motion, not like coach Knight. It’s not as clean and structured. Structured chaos would be more like it.”


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