He benched the senior and started the walk-on. The team had lost two straight games and he was not pleased. "I started him (the walk-on) because we wanted to be enthusiastic and he is the most enthusiastic leader I've seen," he said.

Bob Knight in action again? Bob Knight humiliating a senior starter by sitting him in favor of a player who came to school with no scholarship, and made the team strictly to be cannon fodder in practice?

No. The coach was not Indiana's Knight, the subject of a nationwide controversy this week, but North Carolina's Dean Smith. On Friday night, Smith benched Buzz Peterson, a regular for four seasons, in favor of Cliff Morris, who came to North Carolina without a scholarship.

This came five days after Knight had dramatically benched four of his five starters for a nationally televised game against Illinois. Certainly, there were differences: Indiana lost to Illinois, 52-41, in a Big Ten Conference game; North Carolina easily beat The Citadel, 83-62, in a nonconference game. Smith benched one starter; Knight benched four.

But each was making a point. There were several more talented scholarship players who could have started ahead of Morris if Smith wanted to sit Peterson. Knight has been accused by fans and the media of throwing the game. He has pointed out that he acted similarly for a game against Michigan State last season.

Only that time, Indiana won. That time, Indiana had not started the season in everybody's top five. That time, Knight was not coming off an Olympic gold medal-winning summer. That time the opponent was not one that Knight has publicly criticized for not playing the recruiting game by the rules.

And that time, Knight didn't follow up two days later by throwing his leading rebounder off the team for cutting classes.

"The basketball coach at Indiana," wrote one Chicago columnist, "is a fool."

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with Bob Knight knows he is no fool. He is extraordinarily high-strung, certainly has a deep streak of egomania and believes absolutely that he is almost never wrong -- especially concerning his basketball team. Right now, his friends think that Knight might just be very tired.

"Remember, he's had a long two years," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a former player and assistant coach for Knight. "He's basically gone nonstop since a year ago October, going straight from last season into the Olympics and then into this season. I think he knew just what he was doing Sunday and, from what I can gather, he got what he wanted out of the game."

Krzyzewski called Knight this week -- "mostly just to tell him that there are still some of us who like him" -- and said his former coach sounded okay, although Knight was a bit baffled by the furor.

Since Sunday, questions have been raised about whether Knight threw the Illinois game by starting four freshmwn and not using the starters they replaced for the entire game. On Tuesday, he threw his leading rebounder, Mike Giomi, off the team because Giomi admitted cutting classes.

Giomi had a 2.41 grade-point average last semester, even though he worked a part-time job. Knight had taken his scholarship away over the summer because of academic problems last spring. That average is well above minimums established by the NCAA and Indiana. But one of Knight's minimums is that you go to class. Giomi didn't and had been warned about cutting. When he admitted to Knight he had cut again, he was gone.

Last Wednesday, Knight told Mike Lupica of The New York Daily News: "I tell them (players) when they're still in high school, 'The only problem you'll encounter with me as far as the scholarship is concerned is if you don't go to class' . . . On Monday, I said to (Giomi), 'Are you still cutting classes?' He told me he was. That was that. I hate like hell to lose a kid, but he did it to himself." Giomi said after his dismissal that he understood the rules and understood the reasons for his dismissal. He said he will leave Indiana and seek a scholarship at another Division I school.

Giomi is gone, but the larger questions remain. Knight returned his starters to the lineup Thursday against Iowa but the Hoosiers lost their fourth straight game, 72-59. Although they beat Minnesota, 89-66, yesterday, their record is only 12-7 overall and 4-5 in the conference. That kind of record is not unusual for Knight's teams, however. His 1981 national championship team was 7-5 at one point.

But because Knight has publicly criticized other schools for cheating in recent months, because he has become by far the most visible college coach in America since the Olympics and because of his volatile nature, Knight will continue to be the subject of intense scrutiny, and in many instances, intense criticism.

"What I can't understand is why people are making a bigger deal out of Coach (Knight) benching four guys than they make out of people cheating, out of people not graduating, out of people admitting they use drugs," Krzyzewski said.

"Whether you agree with what he did or not, it's his basketball team. Every one of those kids knows exactly what they are getting when they are recruited.

"He benched four players to make a point to his team. Maybe he got what he wanted. But even if he didn't, how can people get more upset about that than teams playing with guys they bought? Or guys who never go to class? It doesn't make sense to me."

Tennessee Coach Don DeVoe, another former assistant to Knight, goes along with Krzyzewski.

"The bottom line is that any coach who loses three straight games in big-time basketball is going to get ripped by people," DeVoe said. "If Bob Knight had lost three straight games and made no changes, there would probably be people in Indiana screaming, 'Why don't you change the lineup? Why don't you shake things up?'

"Bob Knight proved long ago that he is the standard for college basketball coaching in this country. No one does the job, the whole job, better than he does. I guarantee you before this season is over, Indiana will be a very good basketball team. And he will be the reason why."

Smith, the only coach other than Knight to win an Olympic gold medal and NCAA and NIT championships, also defended Knight.

"Only a coach and his staff know what their team needs," he said. "I think the people in Indiana should support Bob Knight. His players graduate, he doesn't cheat to get them and he wins games."

He also has set up his own academic standards, more stringent than Indiana's. Is that fair?

"Sure it is," DeVoe said. "As long as the kids know coming in those are the rules. There isn't one kid on that Indiana team that was forced to accept a grant-in-aid. I think Bob knows what a lot of us know: if the minimum a player needs to stay eligible is a 2.0, that's exactly what a lot of players are going to get. They're going to ride the fence.

"A lot of players around the country ride the fence and fall off; they stay eligible but never graduate. You see that all the time. By forcing his players to do better than that, I think Bob protects most of them this way. There may be an exception now and then, a kid who gets hurt. But I'll bet that's a vast minority."

In the past, when he has been the subject of controversy, Knight has survived because of his record -- basketball and academic -- and because friends like Kryzewski, DeVoe, Smith and many others have rallied behind him.

They did so in 1979 when he was arrested in Puerto Rico while coaching the Pan American team (to a gold medal) for allegedly hitting a policeman. They did so in 1981 when he deposited a Louisiana State fan in a garbage can during the Final Four in Philadelphia. Now, they will do so again.

In 20 years as a coach, Knight has a record of 409-150. Knight, 44, has won everything there is to win in college basketball: two national titles (1976, 1981), an NIT (1979), the Olympics. He was the youngest coach to win 300 games and the youngest to win 400.

In 1981, he almost left coaching to join CBS as the network's college basketball expert. But while he was negotiating, one of the starters from the 1981 championship team, Landon Turner, was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. Knight could not -- would not -- leave Indiana then.

"If CBS's last offer had been their first, I would have gone," Knight said a year ago. "But before they made the last offer, Landon got hurt . . . "

Now, Knight appears tired to his friends and seems to be searching for motivation. He has always said that even at Indiana, where he has had great talent, he has coached as if he were still at West Point, where he had little talent. That, more than anything, seems to keep him going: the concept of seeking perfection and, occasionally, coming close to it.

Only time will tell whether this episode will cause Knight to stop coaching at season's end or whether it will infuse him with the desire to return and silence critics with another national title.

"He has always done things in a unique way, in a way that other people couldn't do them and succeed," Krzyzewski said. "In coaching, you have to know what is right for you and right for your players. He's always known that with complete certainty. I honestly believe that hasn't changed."