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August 13, 2010
Hard work on and off court key for Knight
It was the type of scene that would have made any mother proud.
Brandon Knight had been named the Gatorade national high school basketball player of the year. And if that weren't enough, seven-time NBA all-star Alonzo Mourning visited Knight's school to hand him the award.
But when Turgenia Knight looks back on that moment from last spring, she doesn't talk so much about the award itself. She instead discusses a conversation she had with a camera operator who had filmed that day's proceedings.
The camera operator had noted that Knight didn't get star-struck around Mourning while ignoring everyone around him. Knight had instead treated the cameraman and with Mourning with the same amount of respect.
"That's what we taught him," Turgenia Knight said. "No matter what anyone's stature in life, what you want to do is treat everyone equally. We're here for a reason. No job is any bigger than anyone else's. It's just a matter of where God decided to place you in life."
Those types of lessons went a long way toward making Knight, who signed with Kentucky, one of the nation's most sought-after prospects.
When recruiting analysts discuss Knight's greatest qualities, they talk about his physical strength. But he wouldn't have made it this far without acquiring the inner strength that he inherited from his parents.
Knight's mother is a writer; his father worked the graveyard shift as an engineer on a cargo train. They taught him the work habits that helped Knight compile a grade-point average well over 4.0 at Pine Crest Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The only "Bs" he ever received were in advanced placement classes.
"My parents always instilled that in me … just by doing it themselves," Knight said. "You see someone else do it, and it kind of rubs off on you. That's the way my parents lived -- working hard at all aspects of life, no matter what it is."
Even as their son developed into one of the top prospects nationally, Knight's parents made sure their son valued academics over athletics. They wouldn't allow Knight's rising profile as a basketball recruit to cause his performance in the classroom to slide.
Knight had to stay grounded -- or else he might get grounded.
"Anytime we saw him slipping in school, basketball was out," his mother said. "We didn't care that he was the No. 1 player in the country. If his grades weren't what they were supposed to be, there'd be no more basketball."
How often did Knight's parents have to administer that punishment?
"Never," Turgenia Knight said. "He always did what was expected of him."
That work ethic is evident in everything Knight does. On the rare occasions when he struggled in the first half of a game at Pine Crest, he often would spend the halftime break shooting baskets. He's the type of teen who never arrives late to any event and never slacks off in a workout.
"He's a kid totally dedicated to what he's about to do, whether that's studying, driving or working out in his backyard," said Andrew Cutler, a family friend. "His family lifestyle was very middle-class, very suburban. His parents gave him every opportunity to succeed and took him into the right environment, and Brandon is one of the toughest, most determined kids I've ever seen."
Cutler helped introduce Knight to organized basketball. Knight had become close friends with Cutler's son, Harry, while they grew up in the same neighborhood in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Coral Springs.
Knight grew up within walking distance of Cutler's house and occasionally spent the early-morning hours doing back-flips on the trampoline in Cutler's backyard. Knight eventually joined the Coral Springs Jammers, a travel team of second-graders that was coached by Cutler and included Cutler's son.
Even then, Knight's potential was obvious to anyone who watched him. He was the first guy on his team to shoot a left-handed layup, the first to hit a jump shot, the first to tip in a missed shot, the first to take a charge.
As the years wore on, Knight developed his game so much that he could have played high school basketball just about anywhere. The Knights chose Pine Crest, one of the more prestigious private schools in south Florida. Every senior generally goes on to a four-year college.
Its basketball reputation wasn't nearly as strong. When Knight arrived on campus, Pine Crest hadn't won a playoff basketball game since 1961. "It would be like LeBron [James] picking the Memphis Grizzlies," Cutler said. "It was just unheard of."
None of that mattered to the Knights. They knew why they had picked Pine Crest.
"It was the education part of it, knowing that it would prepare me for college, wherever I went," Knight said.
Knight wasted no time changing Pine Crest's basketball fortunes. Pine Crest reached the Class 3A state semifinals in Knight's freshman year and won back-to-back state titles in his sophomore and junior seasons before falling 70-46 to Tallahassee Rickards in last season's state championship game.
Knight scored 3,515 points to rank second, to Teddy Dupay, on Florida's career high school scoring list. He averaged 31.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.5 steals as a senior. Knight joined James and Greg Oden as the only two-time Gatorade national players of the year.
"When you hear the name Brandon Knight, you think about a warrior on and off the court," Kentucky coach John Calipari told reporters when Knight signed with the Wildcats. "This young man is as driven as any player that I've ever coached."
That's quite a compliment, considering the players Calipari has coached the past few years.
Calipari's past three point guards have been Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis and John Wall at Kentucky. Rose and Evans went on to become NBA rookies of the year. Rose and Wall were the first players taken in the NBA draft. All three were lottery picks after only one season of college basketball. Knight chose Kentucky in part because of Calipari's successful track record in working with guards.
Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean Knight can match the accomplishments of Rose, Evans or Wall. Wall was the top prospect in the 2009 freshman class, Rose ranked second in 2007 and Evans was rated sixth in 2008. Knight is the No. 6 player in the incoming freshman class, though he was ranked first for much of the recruiting season.
"Brandon's a very strong athlete, but I don't know if he has the blow-by speed or the jumping ability of Wall and Rose -- those guys are top-shelf," said Jerry Meyer, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "And Tyreke just had exceptional size and length.
"In a lot of ways, Brandon's more like Tyreke than the other guys because he's more of a power guard. He has elite strength for a point guard. He's extremely quick laterally and he's a very good defender. As far as blowing by defenders and finishing at the rim, he doesn't do it like [Wall and Rose]. He's more like Tyreke, but Tyreke's a lot longer than Brandon."
Knight also could help Kentucky improve its 3-point shooting, the team's major weakness last season. Kentucky shot 33.1 percent from 3-point range and went 4-of-32 from beyond the arc in a 73-66 East Regional final loss to West Virginia.
During his senior season at Pine Crest, Knight shot 47 percent from the field, with 44 percent of his attempts coming from 3-point range. He made a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in the McDonald's All-American Game.
"It will be interesting to see how well he shoots from the'3,' " Meyer said. "Brandon kind of fell in love with the 3-point shot in summer ball and high school. It will be interesting to see if he takes a lot of '3s,' and if he does, how he shoots it. If he shoots really well from '3,' that will increase his chances of being one-and-done. … It's not necessarily a foregone conclusion he's one-and-done, but there's certainly a chance."
Knight certainly can shoot from long range, but he also can drive to the basket and distribute the ball. Throughout his high school career, Knight displayed a knack for making his teammates better.
"I think versatility describes my game," Knight said. "Probably what I need to work on is just my decision-making overall. I need to get better at that."
There's no question Knight will do the work. That's just the way he was raised.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.