Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won the backing of former Indiana men's basketball coach Bobby Knight, ahead of a key vote in Indiana May 3. (Reuters)

On Tuesday, Ted Cruz made a big play for the hearts of Indiana voters by holding a rally in a gymnasium made famous by the film “Hoosiers,” as well as engaging in a pseudo-reenactment of an iconic scene from the film (one that was somewhat undercut by Cruz referring to a basketball rim as a “ring”). In response, Donald Trump brought out the big guns Wednesday, having his own Indiana rally feature an introduction from none other than legendary coach Bobby Knight.

The man who led the Hoosiers to three national titles and the last undefeated season in major college basketball did not disappoint the crowd in Indianapolis. Immediately upon taking the stage, Knight said, “You folks are taking a look at the most prepared man in history to step in as president of the United States, that man right there.”

It didn’t take long for Knight to begin referencing his coaching career, one that began at Army in 1965 and ended with Texas Tech in 2008. He talked about how well Trump would treat military personnel, and then asked for a show of hands from Navy veterans. “I want you to know that I spent eight years teaching soldiers at the United States Military Academy,” Knight said, “and we played Navy eight straight years, folks, and we beat your ass every time we played you.”

The 75-year-old Knight made it clear that he appreciated the Navy as much as every other military branch, and then he expressed his “gratitude” to the many Indiana fans in the crowd. Knight’s 29-year stint with the Hoosiers ended in 2000 amid controversy over his conduct, including specific allegations that he grabbed a player by the neck and accosted an Indiana student, and the former coach has kept a pronounced distance from the school ever since, including skipping a January celebration of the 40th anniversary his undefeated 1975-76 national champions.

“I want to say to you Indiana people that I owe you a big, big debt of gratitude, because nowhere in the world is a sporting group followed more than this state follows basketball,”Knight said Wednesday. “And I just want to thank you for the opportunity that I had to coach in this state — it will always be something that I will cherish.

“I want you to think about one thing,” Knight added, noting that Trump had mentioned his 900-plus wins and unbeaten streak, “but remember this: Those players, on their shirts, bore one word, and it was Indiana.”


Donald Trump embraces Bobby Knight at a campaign event in Indianapolis. (Reuters/Jim Young)

Knight then turned his focus back on the presidential candidate and those supporting his run to the White House. “There has never been a more honest politician than Donald Trump,” the former coach and ESPN analyst said.

Knight told the crowd, “What you did to give us Donald Trump, they’re going to take all of you people, and they’re going to put you right next to our Founding Fathers and George Washington, that’s what the hell they’re going to do with you people!”

A somewhat odd — or perhaps just outdated — anecdote followed, one that Knight meant to illustrate “how [Trump] operates and how he gets things done.” It had to do with a young man asking his father if he could drive his car, and being told to treat his brothers and sisters better, improve his grades, study the Bible and do something about “that damn long hair.” Eventually, the son points out that Jesus and his apostles all had long hair, only for “the man in charge” to tell him that he was “absolutely right — and they walked their ass off everywhere they went.”

Knight wrapped up his remarks by thanking the crowd again for giving him “the opportunity to coach basketball in this state,” then brought Trump back onto the stage. The Republican front-runner noted that, some time ago, Knight had actually called him out of the blue to suggest he run for president, and that he had kept Knight’s phone number handy for just this occasion.

“Who would be the greatest endorsement in the history of Indiana?” Trump asked, before calling Knight “a cool cat,” a “winner” and a “champ.”

Naturally, Trump could not resist taking a shot at Cruz — apart from repeatedly calling his rival a liar, of course. “He called the rim a ring, so he doesn’t know too much about basketball,” Trump said.