In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Steve Junga talked with Harvey Knuckles, a former standout basketball player at the University of Toledo.
It began almost from the first time Harvey Knuckles - the rail-thin, 6-foot-8, 180-pound forward hit the court for coach Bob Nichols during the very best era for men's basketball at UT.
Knuckles, now 51, enjoyed four 20-win seasons. He blossomed as a senior in 1980-81, scoring 659 points (22 average), adding 7.3 rebounds per game and shooting 56 percent from the field and 82 percent from the line. He is the last Rocket man to be named MAC player of the year.
A member of UT's last two teams to reach the NCAA tournament, Knuckles teamed with Ted Williams, Jim Swaney, Dick Miller, Stan Joplin, Jay Lehman, Tim Selgo, Kevin Appel, Tim Reiser, Mitch Adamek and Brad Rieger on Rocket teams that went 21-6, 22-2, 23-6, 21-10. Knuckles was chosen by the Lakers in the second round of the 1981 draft, but unable to land a roster spot. He played briefly in the Continental Basketball Association before traveling overseas to begin the first part - 11 seasons - of his professional career in Europe, playing for teams in Switzerland, France, Belgium and England.
He returned to Toledo from 1993-96 to serve as an assistant under Larry Gipson, then returned, at age 42, to resume his pro career from 2001 to 2008, some of that as a player-coach.
The youngest of Joseph and Odesser Knuckles' 16 children, Harvey spent his early childhood living on a farm in Arkansas. His father died in 2000 but his mother, now 92, and all 15 of his brothers and sisters are still alive.
Knuckles starred at St. Catherine High in Racine, where he led the team to a state title and was named Wisconsin's player of the year as a senior.
He is divorced from his first wife, a marriage that produced daughter Carlyss (age 22). His second wife died of cancer in January of 2000, and he has a son, Clyde (14), from that marriage.
Knuckles is studying to become a sports agent.
"I HAVE LOTS of memories of when we lived in Arkansas on a farm with chickens and pigs. My parents, brothers and sisters picked cotton. I was a little young to do that. We had 14 kids [living there] at once. My oldest brother and sister were already out of the house. I don't think that was a great time if you had to work, like my brothers and sisters did. But for me some of it was fun."
"My friends [in Racine] begged me to come out for the team in junior high because there was another player who was tall like me. They said the coach was going to play him just because he was tall. So that's how I got started. I went to a camp at St. Catherine the following summer, and they asked if I would like to come to school there. I knew my parents didn't have the money, but they got me a job at school and I worked to pay my way through high school. I knew that Jim Chones played there and was a pro."
"Coach John Maguire was one of the best coaches I have had at any level since I started playing. He helped me develop and had the biggest impact on me. The best memories were winning the state title in basketball, being on the cross country state champs, and almost winning the state in the 440 in track. I was second by a few tenths of a second."
"I WAS ABLE to progress each year I was at Toledo. I didn't start playing ball until I was 14, and I only played center in junior high and high school. So when I had to change to small forward at Toledo, I had a lot to learn. It's hard to get better every year, but I was able to do that from start to finish.
"The highlights for me [at UT] were that we were able to play in front of 8,000 or 9,000 at every home game, and that we won at least 20 games each season I was there.
"Playing with the same people for three and four years was really special. I have played on some great teams in Europe, but it was not the same.
"This one guy told me when I first got on campus that, 'If you dunk in your first game, the fans will love you forever.' It just so happened that I got in the last few minutes of my first game and got a dunk, and the fans really went wild. I would like to think it was for more than one dunk, but he was right. I think it was also because I was so skinny they felt sorry for me. When you are a [fan] favorite, it inspires you to jump a little higher and you can do some things that normally you could not have.
"Dick Miller and Jay Lehman are two of the most competitive people that I know. That really helped me. You could be playing anything with them, and they were going to try and kill you every time. With the friendships that we have, we don't have to talk that often and we can pick up where we left off."
"HOW DID I wind up at Toledo? Recruiting back then was not like today, and I was very thin and some teams didn't recruit me for those reasons. I could've gone to Indiana because my high school coach knew coach Knight. But I thought I needed to play more than watch at that point. Also, when I saw film of a Toledo game, they played a lot like my high school team.
"Looking back, I could not have made a better choice, because I really was able to develop at Toledo, to the level of a pro. I have only admiration for coach Nichols. It's kind of like when you leave home and you get on your own. You say, 'Man, I'm glad my parents made me do my own washing and cooking because it's something I will use for the rest of my life.'
"I learned the fundamentals [at UT] and, for that reason, I was able to last all those years in Europe. When I arrived over here, you could be sent home after one or two games. But I was able to make a living because of what I learned from coach Nichols and his staff.
"I have lived in a number of countries and seen places I would have never seen. I have friends in different countries, and I'm getting a chance to live a different way and think a different way. The bad part is I don't get to spend the time I would like with family and friends back in the States, and I will always be a foreigner here in France."
Contact Steve Junga at:
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"Har-VEE Har-VEE Har-VEE," was the chant that reverberated around the rafters of what was then Centennial Hall from 1977 through 1981, a standard cheer from the 8,000 plus who regularly packed the place for UT basketball.