Knowles was a shooting star
Randy Knowles played only one season for Geneva, but it paved the way to Texas A&M and being drafted by the Chicago Bulls
By KARL PEARSON
11th in a series...
When most people think about the term "one-hit wonder," they're referring to someone or something that came onto the scene for one brief, shining moment and never accomplished anything again.
In certain ways, Randy Knowles might be considered a one-hit wonder because he only played one year of basketball at Geneva High School. What a year that senior year of 1969-70 with the Eagles was, as he averaged 22.2 points per game for coach Bill Koval and shared Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year honors.
But to think that was all Knowles accomplished in basketball would be completely inaccurate. Instead, he went on to even greater heights as a collegiate basketball player at Texas A&M University, becoming one of the finest players from the Aggies' program in the days when the school competed against powers like Arkansas and Texas.
In fact, Knowles was so good at A&M that he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls when he graduated in 1974. After playing for a year in the professional leagues in Spain, he had a brief opportunity with the Bulls of coach Dick Motta on a squad that included the late Norm Van Lier, current Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, future Cleveland Cavaliers center Nate Thurmond, Chet Walker and Bob Love.
Failing to stick with the Bulls, Knowles began a globetrotting journey of playing and coaching. That included stints as a player and coach in the professional league in Chile and a long-term relationship back in Spain that has carried down to today.
As many and varied as his experiences have been, though, Knowles still cherishes the memories of that single season in Geneva and the relationships he built there. He has maintained those connections for nearly four decades.
"I remember those days with a lot of affection," the 56-year-old Knowles said. "We came in from Shelby, but they made me feel welcome right away.
"I was proud to be a part of that team. (Koval) and all the guys were great to me. I was able to build lifelong friendships with those guys."
That applied to Koval, too. The coach, who was a member of the inaugural ACBF Hall of Fame class in 2003, realized he had inherited a special player when Knowles arrived in the community.
"My goodness gracious, what a player!," Koval said from his winter home in Florida. "Randy was 6-6, so he filled a lot of needs for us. He was a coach's dream.
"Randy was a great all-around player. It's unfortunate they didn't have the 3-pointer back then, because he was a great shot. He could hit a shot from anywhere inside half court."
Knowles provided a lot of intangibles for Koval's Eagles, too.
"What a leader Randy was!" Koval said. "He was very influential on our team. He was a very special guy. He definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame."
Koval is also proud that Knowles has maintained his relationships in Geneva. The coach considers the former player and his family fast friends.
"Randy is a special man and the rest of his family are special people. We've remained good friends for many years."
Knowles is pleased to be in the county hall of fame even after his short time at Geneva.
"When you consider I was only there for one year, it's a real honor to be part of the Hall of Fame," he said. "I know there were a lot of good players in the county at that time and it was a hotbed for basketball."
He is also pleased to not only be joining Koval, but to enter the Hall of Fame with one of his rivals, Conneaut's Scott Humphrey.
"Scott Humphrey was a great player, and he had some great teammates like Al Razem and Jeff Puffer," Knowles said. "It's a great honor to be going in with him."
Learning the game
Knowles' life has always seemed to be connected to areas of fervent basketball interest. He and his parents, Steve and Mary Lou Knowles, older sisters Larraine and Sue and younger brother Steve couldn't help but develop a passion for the game as the family spent his early years in Indiana. His brother still lives in Ashtabula. His parents live in Tennessee.
"My dad had been a great athlete, too," Randy said. "He put up a basketball hoop at our home in Wabash, Ind.
"I remember Rick Mount (a standout player at Purdue and in the American Basketball Association) lived not too far away in Carmel, Ind. I used to listen to his games all the time. I started playing myself when I was in elementary school."
Steve Knowles was involved in the plastics and rubber industry, which meant the family moved several times during Randy's youth. Eventually, that led them to Shelby, a community in north central Ohio not far from Mansfield.
A player with Knowles' size and shooting ability caught on quickly in any program of which he was a part. He was on the varsity roster for the Whippets (a type of greyhound) for his sophomore and junior years there, although his career at Shelby came to an abrupt end when he broke his ankle in his junior year.
By the end of that year, the Knowles family was on the road again.
"We came to Geneva so my dad could work at Grand River Rubber," Randy said.
The Eagles' nest
Koval was entering his third season as Geneva's head coach when Knowles arrived. He was already blessed with a very fine group of talent, which included pretty fair size for a team of that era. It included 6-foot-5 Al Hogan, 6-4 1/2 Al Landphair, seasoned point guard Mike Barker, versatile and athletic Ned Tennant, shooting guard John Hayduke and a deep bench featuring guards like Mike Blauman and Norm Urcheck.
"It seemed like we were about 10 deep," Koval said.
So there was uncertainty on Knowles' part as to where he would fit in. He was also adapting to a new coach he wasn't quite sure he really understood.
"Bill was a young guy at that time," Knowles said. "He was a big, burly guy that tended to scowl a little and had kind of a gruff voice. It was difficult to adapt, but I just tried to work hard.
"I was excited moving into that situation, though. I knew they had a great program at Geneva. I was fired up."
Eventually, Knowles realized there was more to Koval than met the eye.
"Bill was stern, but he wasn't like Bobby Knight," he said. "He actually was very encouraging."
That Geneva team was far from run-and-gun, but the Eagles were a well-oiled machine at both ends of the court.
"We didn't run a lot, but we still averaged in the 60s," Knowles said. "I think we played real good defense, too. We won a lot of our games by large margins, usually like 65-50."
The typical Geneva starting lineup featured Barker on the point, Hayduke at the other guard, Landphair at one forward, Knowles at the other and Hogan in the middle.
The NEC of that time was a nightly battle, with fine teams at Ashtabula in the last year of Hall of Famer Gene Gephart's career as head coach and tough battles from teams like St. John and Harbor.
"Ashtabula had a real nice team with Jim Hood and Dan Craft," Knowles said. "The Mudd brothers played at St. John. We played Harvey (coached by John D'Angelo) in non-conference and they were very good.
"But we did pretty well against those teams. I remember we handled Ashtabula pretty good."
The fly in the ointment was Conneaut, coached by ACBF Hall of Famer Harry Fails, and his band of the aforementioned Spartans, which also included John Colson and Tim Richards. The Spartans would end up bumping Geneva out of the NEC title, a prelude to its run to the Class AAA regional tournament that year.
"I don't know what it was about playing Conneaut," Knowles said. "I think we had better talent, but I don't know. I guess we got nervous when we played them. I do think we respected each other."
Geneva finished with a fine 16-4 record that season. The Eagles split their Class AAA tournament games.
If anything, the move brought out the best in Knowles. He ended up leading the county in scoring and sharing Player of the Year honors with Humphrey.
"I was pretty pleased about that," Knowles said.
On to A&M
Apparently, Knowles' performance and his attributes, coupled with what he had done earlier in his career, caught the attention of Division I college scouts. He actually had several options, including interest from Ohio State, then coached by Fred Taylor, and several Mid-American Conference schools.
Knowles and Koval remember their visit to Ohio State well.
"We went down to Columbus to see their NCAA regional tournament games," Knowles said. "(Future Cleveland Cavaliers) Jim Cleamons was at point guard and Luke Witte was at center.
"They were playing Jacksonville with Artis Gilmore and Pembrook Burrows. Western Kentucky was at that tournament, too, with Clem Haskins. I was there with about five other guys they were trying to recruit. I think Alan Hornyak was one of the other guys."
Koval makes it clear he had little to do with that trip.
"Randy was the one who took us there," he said. "I just drove."
But, at that point anyway, Knowles found himself doubting himself.
"The only thing I had for people to base their evaluation of me on was that year at Geneva, because I had sat out with that broken ankle at Shelby," he said. "I wasn't sure I was capable of playing at Ohio State. Looking back, I think I could have played there."
So when Texas A&M came calling, he felt the pull. The Aggies showed a lot of interest in Knowles for a kid from more than 1,500 miles away. But coach Shelby Metcalf put his scouts on Knowles' trail.
"They flew a coach up to see me play," Knowles said. "I liked that. I knew A&M was in the (Southwest Conference), which I knew was still a Division I school, but I didn't think played the kind of competition they did in the Big Ten. Texas and Arkansas were the powers back then. And I liked that it was warm there."
Those were strong enough reasons for Knowles to cast his lot with the Aggies. It turned out to be a great decision for him.
"Once I got down there, I really think I blossomed," Knowles said.
That's an understatement because he was a key component for Metcalf in his three varsity seasons in an era when freshmen weren't allowed to play varsity basketball. In his junior year of 1972-73, Knowles scored 42 points in a home game against, of all teams, Arkansas.
"I believe that's still the single game scoring record for home games at A&M," he said.
He made the All-SWC team his junior and senior seasons, second-team the first year and first-team as a senior. He was also A&M's team MVP those years.
"I think I ended up finishing as second on the combined scoring and rebounding career list when I graduated," Knowles said. "I think I was fourth in scoring."
The Aggies never won the SWC or made the NCAA Tournament or the National Invitational Tournament during his career, but that doesn't mean Knowles didn't have other memorable college experiences.
"When I was a sophomore, we played UCLA out at Pauley Pavilion," he said. "They had Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes and Sidney Wicks and John Wooden was still coaching. We lost something like 104-52, but it was a great experience."
And just because the SWC wasn't the premier basketball conference in the country didn't mean the NBA couldn't find Knowles. The Bulls drafted him with their fifth-round pick in the 1974 draft, making him the 88th pick overall.
Getting his shot
But listening to the advice of an agent he hired at the time, and knowing what a loaded roster the Bulls had at that time, Knowles opted for basketball in Spain. It was a decision about which he has mixed emotions even today.
"I wish I had gone with the Bulls, but I listened to my agent," he said. "I really believe I could have played, but they had drafted two guys in the first round (Maurice Lucas of Marquette with the 14th pick overall and Cliff Pondexter of Long Beach State with the 16th). But both those guys ended up going to the ABA. I should have gone right out of college."
But the decision to go to Spain has paid off handsomely in the years since.
"Because of my experience in Spain, I'm still over here," Knowles said. "I married a girl from Spain (Belen, to whom he has been married for 12 years) and I made a lot of connections I use even today."
Randy Knowles is shown with his parents, Mary Lou and Steve
Knowles, at their home in Tennessee. Randy Knowles, a
Geneva graduate, will be inducted into the Ashtabula County
Basketball Hall of Fame on March 29.
There was one more negative that came out of that first year in Spain.
"I tore my hamstring while I was playing there," Knowles said. "I still decided to come back and try it with the Bulls in 1975, but I still wasn't healthy.
"I went into camp with guys like John Laskowski and Steve Green from Indiana (the Bulls' first two picks in 1975) and Bill Andreas from Ohio State. I made it into some of their preseason games before I was cut."
A bit downhearted, Knowles returned to Geneva for a year.
"I did my student teaching in 1975-76," he said. "I used to stay in shape by playing on the outdoor courts at Geneva against guys like Dan Craft and (St. John graduate) John Wheelock."
But the wanderlust was tugging at Knowles. It didn't take long to answer the call.
"I got restless," he said. "Then I got a call from the Chilean Basketball Association telling me they wanted somebody who could still play to come down and coach their national team."
That's precisely what he did in 1977.
"I coached their national team in the South American Championships that year," Knowles said.
But the desire to play again was stronger.
"My leg had been healed for about two years by then," Knowles said. "I stayed two more years playing in Chile. I scored 106 points in one game."
Then his old collegiate coach, Metcalf, called with an offer back in College Station, Texas.
"He called me back in 1980 to be his graduate assistant," Knowles said. "I was there from 1980-85 and got my master's degree."
During that span, he also played the major role in recruiting another Geneva alumnus and Koval product, Jay McHugh, who was inducted into the ACBF Hall of Fame in 2006.
"We'd heard about Jay scoring 52 points in a game up there, so we checked him out and recruited him to A&M," Knowles said.
By 1986, he was looking for new frontiers. He found them in a familiar place back in Spain.
"I got asked to come back over here and work as an assistant coach," Knowles said. "I ended up with a team up north of Barcelona in Badalona."
Knowles wound up staying in Spain for the next 12 years until he fielded a call to come back to the U.S.
"In 1998, I got a call from Second Baptist School, a small private high school in Houston, to teach Spanish and coach the basketball team," he said. "I was there until 2000, went back to Badalona from 2000-02, then went back to Second Baptist from 2002-08."
But the lure of Spain and having the opportunity to get his wife back close to her family led him to accept a job with Real Madrid, one of the finest teams in all of European basketball. He is an assistant to Joan Plaza, one of his former players.
"I'm sort of the player development coach," he said.
European basketball is actually a two-pronged attack. Real Madrid is actually focused on two objectives. It is in the Elite Eight of the European Championships, with a trip to Greece on the horizon to play Olympiakos, which includes former NBA standout Josh Childress.
At the same time, Knowles' team is trying to build momentum for the Spanish League championships.
"The Final Four for the European Championships is in mid-April," Knowles said. "To win the European Championship would be a big, big deal.
"The Spanish League playoffs are in mid-May. The Spanish League is the second-best in the world, next to the NBA."
That is not a statement out of place, as evidenced by the Spaniards' silver medal to the LeBron James-led U.S. team in the 2008 Olympics. Pau and Marc Gasol are just two Spanish products in the NBA, with more coming.
Knowles has actually had the chance to work with one Spanish player, Rudy Fernandez of the Portland Trail Blazers. He is also hoping to work with Ricky Rubio, Spain's exciting 18-year-old point guard who gave the U.S. fits in Bejing. Knowles also works with U.S. products Louis Bullock, a Michigan graduate, and Kennedy Winston, in his current position.
Some people might call Knowles the Spanish shot doctor.
"I love player development," he said. "A lot of the players here are very skilled. Shooting is one of their big drawbacks."
Obviously, basketball is a huge factor in Knowles' life, almost 40 years after his final high school season at Geneva.
"All my friends, all my connections and even my wife have come to me because of basketball," he said. "My life has been wonderful.
"I never knew when I started where it was going to take me. It's been great."