George King, Purdue's athletic director, has filed a protest with Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke accusing Indiana Coach Bob Knight of violating the sportsmanship code of the conference.

The reason? A donkey.

The story goes this way:

A month ago when Indiana and Purdue played, Knight was incensed when a Purdue player slapped Isiah Thomas. Knight said the slap was intentional and called it an example of "the Purdue mentality."

Angered by Knight's statement, people at Purdue criticized him. The angry words went back and forth. On March 8, the day after Indiana won the Big Ten title, Knight opened his weekly TV show by saying he had invited King to be a guest, but King hadn't been able to make it.

However, Knight continued, he had a friend at least as qualified as King to talk about basketball. "His name," said Knight, "is Jack."

The camera then flashed to a donkey standing a few feet from Knight. The donkey was wearing a Purdue hat. Since, a new T-shirt, picturing the donkey and hat, has been a hot sale item here.

King, enraged, filed the protest with Duke this week.

Thomas, a brilliant sophomore guard, denied reports that he will turn professional next fall. Thomas also talked about playing for Knight.

"I think almost anyone could play for him because he has a very simple system to learn," Thomas said. "Either you learn to do it his way or you don't stick around. There is one way and no other way.

"One thing I've learned here," he continued, "is that it's amazing how much you can get out of a body. It's surprising how much you can do when you're pushed to the limit. At least I was surprised at how much punishment my body could take. I believe we practice harder than anybody in the country.

"What he asks is simple. Everything is bang, bang, bang and you do it hard."

Thomas was asked if drills were repeated when they were done wrong.

"No they aren't," he said. "You do it wrong, you get kicked out. People can play here who might not be as talented as other guys because if they do things the right way, they get better.

"The way things are broken down for us it's hard to screw up. But we still find a way. When you come out of high school you have to adapt and it's hard. You're used to getting away with stuff because you're more talented than the other guys.

"It's hard to understand that when you're in college everyone has been the best and you can't do things the way you do them in high school. It's an ego thing. Coach has a way of making you understand that, though."

Since the screaming, throw-Isiah-out-of-practice days of November, Knight and his star have become close. Now that Thomas has let Knight be the boss, Knight has given him more freedom on the court, and that's made Indiana a superior team.