The first time that Dr. Wayne Knoll started talking about Georgetown basketball, I was almost tempted to tune him out. Here was this highly respected professor of English who looked like he hadn’t attempted a free throw in decades — how could he possibly tell me anything new about sports?
In hindsight, I should have known better. This was the same man who had taught me so much about literary giants such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It made sense to think that I should at least listen to what he had to say about figurative towers like Ewing and Mourning.
In addition to having taught English at Georgetown since 1972, for past 23 years, Knoll has been the university’s faculty athletic representative (FAR). Between these two vantage points, Knoll has been able to develop a unique insight into not only Georgetown basketball, but Georgetown athletics in general.
For instance, he remembers 1982 very well. A young Patrick Ewing had enrolled in Knoll’s literary analysis class shortly after arriving on the Hilltop for his second semester. Ewing, according to Knoll, was shy and respectful, especially given his notoriety. He was also a dedicated student.
The day after a victory against Syracuse in February, Knoll recalls seeing Ewing standing outside his classroom. Ewing had played an integral role in the win the evening before, but at that moment he was visibly crippled by the flu.
“I told Patrick to go home!” recalls Knoll. “There was no reason for him to be in class when he was so clearly suffering.”
But Ewing wouldn’t budge.
“Dr. Knoll, I don’t want to miss class,” the budding superstar replied. “The basketball season has started now, and I’m worried I’m going to miss a lot of classes.”
Knoll was impressed with Ewing’s dedication to academics — Patrick had even turned in the paper that was due that day.
Later that season, the basketball team was in Utah for the opening round of NCAA Tournament games. Ralph Dalton, another player who was serving as the team’s academic captain that season, Ewing and three other team members were all enrolled in Knoll’s literary analysis course.
The five players gathered around to talk to Knoll. Dalton spoke first.
“Dr. Knoll,” he began, “We’ve finished all of your assignments! And we’re going to win! And we’re going all the way! So can you give us the rest of the assignments so we don’t fall behind?”
What was Knoll’s response to his intrepid student-athletes?
Chuckling, Knoll remembers, “I ended up giving them more assignments — all the way up through the National Championship.”
Knoll was able to cultivate intimate friendships with his student athletes. He recalls how Ewing, a fine-art major, would occasionally stop by to show off his latest work. Today Knoll counts one of Ewing’s charcoal sketches among his most prized possessions.
Another player with whom Knoll developed a close friendship was Alonzo Mourning. “He was brilliant,” recalls Knoll, “Articulate, smart, he could do anything.”
Mourning has similarly kind words to say about Knoll. In a recent interview, he stated, “Dr. Knoll was the type of professor that guided you through some of the obstacles that you were going to face in class. He played an important role in my success as a student athlete.”
Whenever Knoll teaches poetry, he likes to tell his classes the story of how Mourning was a gifted poet. Not only did Mourning routinely write his own poetry, Knoll still possesses a volume of work that ’Zo composed during his tenure at Georgetown.
Considering Knoll’s friendships with stars such as Ewing and Mourning, one naturally wonders if he had any experience with Allen Iverson.
“I didn’t teach A.I.,” recalls Knoll, “because no one taught A.I.”
Eventually, Knoll transcended his career as a professor and added the position of Georgetown’s FAR to his resume. In this role, he serves as the main liaison between student athletes and Georgetown faculty. Knoll is proud to point out that during his tenure as FAR, Georgetown has never had an academic-athletic scandal. He also cherishes the esteem that other schools have for Georgetown.
“Our Jesuit influence and motto is not just lip service, we really value the concept of a healthy mind and a healthy body,” Knoll says.
One person who certainly also holds Knoll in high regard is President DeGioia. In a recent statement, DeGioia, who was twice a student of Knoll’s during his undergraduate years at Georgetown, noted that “[Knoll] has embraced our philosophy that Georgetown’s athletics programs field competitive teams with student-athletes that demonstrate sportsmanship as well as academic success.”
It’s certainly true that academic achievement is never far from the mind of Knoll. Another of his responsibilities involves helping to monitor student athletes’ GPAs. His motto is to be proactive rather than reactive and to encourage those in need to seek assistance before it’s too late, so he is exceedingly proud of the fact that there is often not a single student-athlete in academic difficulty.
“The only thing I ask of each of them,” Knoll says of his student-athletes, “is not to sit in the back of the class as if you were just an add-on! Come on up front!”
Men’s basketball may be the highest profile sport at Georgetown, but to Knoll, all student-athletes are created equal.
Many years ago, Knoll remembers an afternoon when several members of the varsity football team came to him frustrated with the state of their program. Recent incidents involving public urination, intoxication and academic difficulties certainly signaled to Knoll that a change in the culture of the team was necessary.
Working with former Athletic Director Frank Rienzo, Knoll says he was shocked to discover that the coach’s response to the difficulties was a simple “boys will be boys” mantra.
That’s not the way we handle things here at Georgetown.
In terms of the problem players, Knoll’s directive to the coach was to “get them all out of there, off the team.” When the head coach was finally fired, Knoll played an essential role on the hiring committee as they vetted new candidates. According to Knoll, the main criterion for the new coach was not an athletic winner, but one “who understood the place of athletics on this campus as a part of Georgetown.”
During his days at Kansas State, Knoll was quite the student-athlete in his own right. He played three sports — two kinds of track and field as well as varsity football. “Third string tailback,” he says, “but it was still fun.”
Today, even after 36 years of service, Knoll remains committed to his responsibilities at Georgetown. He is drawing up a blueprint for future FARs so that they will be able to focus more on the intricacies of NCAA compliance issues without having to sacrifice the personal care and attentiveness to the athletes themselves.
Considering his immediate future, Knoll thinks only in terms of Georgetown. “I remain so stimulated by my vocation as an instructor and faculty representative,” says Knoll, “I have no plans to retire.”
It’s good that Knoll plans on sticking around for a while, because there’s no denying that his will be a tough act to follow. Both as an instructor in the classroom and a valuable advisor outside of it, Knoll has directly and positively impacted the lives of several decades worth of Hoyas.
I can’t believe that even for a second I questioned what Knoll could teach me about athletics.
With just four years on the Hilltop, there isn’t enough time to learn it all.kaynak : NBA