From books to boards, Knight excels
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brandon Knight couldn't hide his disappointment. He didn't even try.
His final shot as a high school basketball star -- an airball.
His final play as a high school basketball star -- his fifth foul.
His final game as a high school basketball star -- 18 points, well below his 32.5-per-game average.
His final result -- a 70-46 loss to Rickards (Tallahassee, Fla.) in the Class 3A state championship game.
When Knight came off the court after his fifth foul, his coach David Beckerman stood and applauded. He encouraged the students and fans of Pine Crest School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) to do the same. It should have been one of the few nice moments for Knight in a frustrating game.
Instead, Pine Crest was whistled for a technical foul, as Beckerman took longer than the 30-second time period allowed to substitute a player after fouling out.
When Knight was presented with his second-place medal, he took it off. Someone from Pine Crest would put it back on him and he'd take it back off.
"I think he had that silver medal on for about 10 seconds total," said Fabian Lyon, a reporter from The Miami Herald.
Instead of being poised to hoist his third state championship, Knight came into the final nursing a groin injury he suffered during Pine Crest's 77-63 victory over Williston in the semifinals.
"I could do the things that I wanted to do," Knight said. "I did what I could, but it was difficult to move and get my speed where it needed to be."
It was an unexpected end to one of the most storied prep basketball careers in Florida history. A career the player himself described as "average" after his disappointing finale, but that in reality was anything but.
"For five years Pine Crest averaged 25 victories a season," Beckerman said. "We won five district titles. We won the region four times and we won two state championships.
"That's Brandon Knight's legacy."
It's also why Brandon Knight is the top undecided basketball recruit -- the No. 1 point guard and No. 3 overall player in the ESPNU 100 -- left in the Class of 2010.
The 6-foot-3 point guard recently won his second straight Gatorade National Boys' Basketball Player of the Year Award, joining LeBron James and Greg Oden as the only two-time winners of the coveted trophy.
Knight recently dropped Miami from his final list of college choices and has Kentucky, Kansas, Florida, Syracuse and UConn as his announced final choices. He says he is done taking visits but hasn't ruled out an unofficial visit to Syracuse.
He's supposed to announce his intentions early this month, but no one really knows.
And that appears to be the way Knight likes it.
"It was like covering a professional basketball player for five years," Lyon said. "He takes the sport so seriously, and he doesn't have time for nonsense. He's not going to joke around and act a little silly like other high school athletes. That's not his style."
For a young man who is described as "guarded" off the court, Knight is anything but on the court. A charismatic presence if there ever was one, Knight could give the crowd a game's worth of memories in less than a minute.
In the semifinal against Williston, he spent much of the first half in the background as his teammates set the pace for the game. With 3:59 left he made an aggressive drive to the basket for a score; ten seconds later he took a pass from Julian Hernandez and dunked it on a breakaway. After a defensive stop, Knight picked up his dribble and pulled up for a 3-pointer from 22 feet away.
In 33 seconds, Knight doubled his point total. Then he was whistled for an offensive foul, his second of the half. That really brought the crowd in the Lakeland Center to its feet.
"No one's here to see you!" shouted a fan toward the officiating crew.
Abby Ward was the head coach of the East in the 2009 McDonald's All-American girls' basketball game and has coached many of the top boys' and girls' basketball players in Broward County (Fla.) over the past 20 years.
Knight tried out for her AAU team many years ago but decided not to continue with the tryout out of loyalty to his original team.
"I always respected him for that," Ward said. "We had the much better team, but he is one of those young men that always wants to finish what he starts."
During his tryout and for years afterward, Ward watched Knight work himself into becoming the player that he is.
"His work ethic is on a level you don't see too often," Ward said. "He's always trying to get better at something. There are only so many things you can do with the basketball, but he's always trying to do what he can do better."
The stories about his work ethic are common. Lyon said two days after winning the state championship last year, Knight was back in the gym working on another aspect of his game.
One shining moment
Lyon recently saw a different Knight when former NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning presented Knight with his Gatorade award.
"Zo and Brandon were joking around, and you saw a real true-blue smile from a good kid," Lyon said. "I guess that's what it takes sometimes -- to be surprised by a future Hall of Famer. But it was nice to see."
The criticisms of Knight almost read like compliments. Ward -- who admits she's a tough judge of the players she's coached and coached against -- feels that Knight can be a little too unselfish at times.
"Brandon has always stood out over everyone else, and there are times that he could take over the game, and he needs to, but he still wants to be the team guy," Ward said. "That's just the type of person he is.
"[He has] the mentality that [he doesn't] want to be selfish. But sometimes you have to take off. That's something that can't be coached. It's up to the individual to know when it's time to be part of the team and when it's time to elevate the team."
Knight's work ethic may have unintended consequences: The senior has suffered a few injuries in the past 12 months. He injured his groin in the state semifinals and that affected his movement in the finals. In 2008 he had surgery to remove a cyst on his spine, and last summer he injured his foot in a national tournament.
Each time, Knight's desire to play outweighed the recovery time, and as soon as he could return to the court, he did.
"He just pushes himself so hard all the time. I hope he's not overdoing it," Lyon said. "The fear is that he doesn't know how to tone it down."
Concerns aside, whichever school lands Knight will be getting the complete package.
"He is a student-athlete in every sense of the word," Lyon said. "That 4.3 GPA he has at Pine Crest is the real deal. No one's giving him any breaks at that school. He wants to be the best player and the best student.
"I think he'll play for two years and move on to the NBA. I don't see him being a one-and-done guy."
And Ward says his potential is limitless when his work ethic is taken into account.
"He's going to be on top of his studies and he's going to make every practice and he's going to practice harder than anyone," Ward said. "He has a high basketball IQ, and he's developed himself into a complete player.
"It's hard to predict national titles, because it takes more than one individual to achieve that. But with the right motivation, Brandon will be everything you can ask for in a player."
After the loss to Rickards, Knight wasn't in the mood to talk with reporters about what had just happened. There was no need to reflect, especially when it was time for him to move on.
"My high school basketball career is over," Knight said. "I don't like to lose, but I'm not going to sit and think about it so much, because it's over with.
"Now my focus will be on trying to win a national championship wherever I choose to go to school. It's on to the next picture."
Corey Long is a freelance writer in Florida.
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