Bob Knight, here to do color commentary on tonight's Purdue-Gophers basketball game on ESPN2, might have become the Gophers' basketball coach had Tubby Smith not been available.

Not much was known at the time about the pressure being put on University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks by some prominent alumni and top contributors to the basketball program that the university hire Knight to be the Gophers coach.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has never been a big Knight fan and he certainly wouldn't have encouraged the hiring of Knight, but if Bruininks could have been convinced, athletic director Joel Maturi would have gone along. However, when Smith became available, the pressure to hire Knight disappeared.

Knight still has a desire to coach after turning the Texas Tech job over to his son, Pat. If the right job was offered at a school where he has a chance to win, he'd be interested.

"Well, I like to coach," Knight said. "I like the part about getting ready to play, seeing if what we'd done is the right thing. I think I'd like to coach, but it would have to be something that was good. I mean, it'd have to be something that I like.

"I'll probably always miss coaching because I like the mechanics of basketball. I always liked to prepare -- if our defense could stop your offense, and if our offense could score against your defense -- that was really always enjoyable to me."

Believe me, he is a coaches' coach. Knowing him as well as I do, I know how other coaches worship this man and what a great coach and person he really is.

Like anybody else, he has made some mistakes. But we go back forever, and I could write a book about his good deeds.

Knight and Smith are good friends.

"I think he's done a very good job," Knight said. "I thought he was a good choice for the job. I got to know Tubby when he was at Kentucky and I really liked him. I respect the way he goes about things."

Knight is enjoying working for ESPN, something he didn't know whether he would like.

"It gives me a chance to watch basketball and, here and there, see a coach that I like," Knight said. "Just to kind of watch it as though I don't have anything at stake. I just enjoy watching teams play and seeing what they do. Things come up, like maybe a zone [defense], I watch how they attack the zone. Would they do it like I do it? Or do I do it differently?

"I'm enjoying it. The ESPN people have been really good, and I've enjoyed them immensely."

He thinks the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East have more good teams than the Big Ten this season.

If you want some references about Knight, ask Tubby Smith what he thinks of Knight as a person and a basketball coach. You would get a very favorable reply.

Gardenhire happy

While the Twins haven't made any big moves to bolster the infield, manager Ron Gardenhire is happy with his shortstop and second baseman.

"The big thing was we got [the signing of Nick] Punto done, we know we've got a middle infield with [Alexi] Casilla and Punto now," Gardenhire said. "And you know what, our pitching staff is intact, so I think we'll be OK.

"Casilla came up as a shortstop, and I think that's his natural position. But we moved him over there to second base and he did pretty good over there. When you've got two guys up the middle -- you know Casilla started getting comfortable over there and, with a little more work at turning the double play, I think he's pretty good over there. Nick can catch the ball no matter where you put him.

"If we can generate enough offense around Nicky and guys like that, which I think we can, you've got to catch the ball up the middle and get the big outs you're supposed to. Those guys should be able to do that."


Maturi has promised to schedule at least one BCS team every year on the Gophers football schedule. One of the schools he is talking to is Southern California, but he says the contract has not been signed yet. ... Minnesota ranks 13th nationally and third in the Big Ten in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings. Michigan State is seventh and Penn State is 10th. Stanford is in first place.

One man who would not be surprised by the success Kevin McHale is having coaching the Wolves is the late Red Auerbach, who won nine NBA titles as coach of the Celtics. I remember my friend Red telling me that "[McHale] might not be the greatest athlete, but he was one of the smartest players."

Former Vikings and Arizona Cardinals football coach Dennis Green should get some credit for Arizona's success this year as the coach before Ken Whisenhunt took over. Twenty-five players who were on Green's rosters are still with Arizona. And remember, it was Green who drafted Larry Fitzgerald Jr., the great Cardinals wide receiver from Minneapolis. Green had Fitzgerald around as a youngster as a Vikings ball boy, and he had a chance to learn from great receivers such as Cris Carter and Randy Moss.

Knight recently covered Kansas and was impressed by former Bloomington Jefferson center Cole Aldrich. "I think he could be a great player," Knight said. "He's energetic in his play. I think he does a lot of things in the post. He's a difficult kid to play against."

Andy Rautins, son of Leo Rautins, who started his basketball career with the Gophers before transferring to Syracuse, is the big star of the outstanding Syracuse team.

Former Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday to avoid going to arbitration. Bartlett, who hit .286 with 37 RBI and 20 stolen bases, will earn $1,981,250 in 2009.

Rosters were released for the 2009 World Baseball Classic this week, and 19 players in the Twins organization will participate, including six players from last year's major league club: Jesse Crain and Justin Morneau will play for Canada; Francisco Liriano will pitch for the Dominican Republic; Jose Mijares will pitch for Venezuela; Joe Nathan will pitch for the U.S.; and Nick Punto will play for Italy. A number of former Twins also will play in the event: Augie Ojeda, Matt Garza and Dennis Reyes for Mexico; David Ortiz for the Dominican Republic; A.J. Pierzynski for the U.S.; Johan Santana, Carlos Silva and Juan Rincon for Venezuela; Grant Balfour for Australia and J.C. Romero for Puerto Rico.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at