By TOM NOIE South Bend Tribune Staff Writer
5:27 PM EDT, March 20, 2011
CHICAGO -- Breaks during college basketball games -- a free throw, a television timeout, a ball fired into the third row -- have been the toughest times for Notre Dame sophomore power forward Tom Knight.
From his spot near the end of the Irish bench, Knight does his best to stay plugged into what's happening on the court. But when the action stalls, his mind wanders about what's happening on the other side of the world.
Knight's father, Karl, is one month into his second tour of duty of Iraq as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. He's served for more than 20 years. If all goes well, Karl Knight will be back home in Dixfield, Maine, sometime in December, but nobody really knows.
"If there's a low moment during a game, I'll be like, 'Man, I hope he's safe,' and I'll start praying for him," Knight said. "I think, I believe, he's safe. Sometimes I worry a lot, but I'm pretty fine with it. It's still hard."
Knight's father has tracked Notre Dame's basketball progress by computer. The two occasionally communicate through e-mail, but it might be days before Knight receives a response.
"He's pretty busy over there," Knight said. "I always smile when I get e-mail from him."
Knight laughed about the most recent correspondence from his father, who jokingly pointed out that his second-oldest son, and one of his five children, led the Irish in assist-turnover ratio (3.0) and owned the team's best free-throw percentage (1.000).
"He keeps up with it when he can," Knight said.
Knight doesn't worry about his father tracking his progress through the Irish box scores. He's averaging 1.5 points and 1.2 rebounds in 3.9 mainly mop-up minutes over only 13 games this season. An understanding was reached during Knight's freshman year.
"He's like, 'I'm not going to come to South Bend many times until you actually start playing,'" said Knight, whose dad saw four games this season. "Little pressure there."
Knight was in the sixth grade the first time his father was called to serve overseas. That good-bye with his mother and his brother and his sisters was a whole lot more emotional than the second time around. Back then, Knight didn't really understand what it all meant.
"That was like the first time that my dad was away," Knight said. "It was tougher then, but it's definitely still tough now."
Father and son were in the stands for Notre Dame's home football game against Connecticut in November, 2009 when Knight learned -- by accident -- that his dad would return to the Middle East. The two were locked in a disagreement during a game that would go to overtime.
"You know what, you better cherish this time," Karl Knight counseled his son.
"Why?" Knight wondered.
"Because I'm going to Iraq next year,'" Knight remembers his father telling him. "I was like, 'Oh, thanks.' I pretty much broke down during the football game."
The day before Knight's father left for six weeks of basic training, he attended Notre Dame's mid-January game against St. John's in New York. Irish coach Mike Brey thanked Knight's father for his commitment to his country during a post-game locker room visit.
Brey carries a special spot in his heart -- and on his right wrist -- for all U.S. troops. He still wears a green Camp Arifjan bracelet that solders gave him during a moving six-day visit to Kuwait in 2007.
"I feel for him," Brey said of Knight. "Very unique and a heck of a guy."
Sunday's third-round NCAA tournament game against Florida State was the seventh time this season that Notre Dame has played with only one day between games. The Irish planned to treat the Friday-Sunday format just like a Saturday-Monday league turnaround during the regular season.
Notre Dame was 11-1 in one-game turnarounds this season, 5-1 in its three Saturday-Monday league tests. That included some of the season's biggest wins - the comeback over Marquette, the road shocker against Pittsburgh and the 32-point home party over Villanova.
"We've done it all year long," said senior captain Carleton Scott. "I think we're going to be prepared for it."
Florida State played with one day between games five times during the regular season, but only once when the stakes were higher in Atlantic Coast Conference play. The Seminoles were 7-3 overall, 2-0 in league play.
As was the case for Notre Dame during the regular season without Scott, who missed four games with a slight tear to his left hamstring, Florida State's regular season carried an asterisk of sorts - the Seminoles played six games without junior Chris Singleton.
The 6-foot-9 forward suffered a broken right foot Feb. 12 against Virginia. Singleton returned for the NCAA tournament second-round game against Texas A&M. He had five points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal with four fouls in 16 minutes.
How much Singleton could offer Sunday was not clear.
Florida State's season statistics are broken down into games when the Seminoles had Singleton - they allowed 61.6 points per game and were 18-7, and games when they didn't - 64.8 points allowed and a 3-3 record.
"He's good," Scott said. "He was the (ACC) defensive player of the year, so you can't take that from him."
What big game?
A matchup between Notre Dame and Florida State -- in any sport -- often rekindles memories of that unseasonably mild November day in 1993 when No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 1 Florida State played a football game dubbed the "Game of the Century" -- at Notre Dame Stadium.
But for some of the Seminoles, maybe because of the final score -- a 31-24 Irish win -- that's ancient history.
"I'm vaguely familiar with it," said forward Bernard James.
"I don't know about it," offered guard Derwin Kitchen. "I was very young then and wasn't really paying attention to stuff like that."
Sunday was the first time that fifth-ranked Notre Dame and Florida State met in a men's basketball game.
Staff writer Tom Noie:
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