COLUMN: Knight evolving into a player more like his point guard predecessors at the best time



TAMPA, Fla.—The expectations surrounding Brandon Knight at the beginning of the season were unreal. Two games into his first NCAA Tournament and Knight is living up to those expectations and then some.

Acting as the encore to the likes of former point guards under UK head coach John Calipari, including Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and most notably John Wall, is no easy feat.

Sure, Knight was quick, but was he as explosive as Wall? Yes, he was articulate, but could he popularize a dance like Wall did? And, yes, Knight’s jumper looked better than Wall’s, but how many clutch shots did he make early in the season?

Forget early-season heroics that result in essentially meaningless wins over Miami (Ohio) or UConn at Madison Square Garden. Knight has been saving his clutch moments for the NCAA Tournament and has arguably been more clutch than Wall ever was, or needed to be, in the postseason.

After a game-winning layup against Princeton with two seconds left on the clock Thursday, Knight fixed what had been his broken jump shot and poured in a career-high 30 points in a come-from-behind win against West Virginia on Saturday to send UK to the Sweet 16.

“(Knight) carried us at the beginning…he was knocking down a lot of big shots,” UK junior guard Darius Miller said.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Knight is playing as well as he has been this week.

Unlike those other former point guards who sought tutelage under Calipari, Knight has a perfectionist’s mindset. He is unfazed by most criticism, doesn’t seek the limelight and focuses on basketball above all else.

While he may not have been producing as many highlight reel moments as Wall did throughout his freshman season, Knight has been steadily building to this point.

“He is a terrific player and an unbelievable young person,” Calipari said. “I’ve never seen, out of all the players I’ve coached—and I had guys who would live in the practice facility—I’ve never seen a guy with this kid’s work ethic.

“Well, I’ve had a couple, one is the MVP NBA, so he was kind of that way too,” added Calipari in reference to Rose, who is currently the star on the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls.

It has to count for something that Knight had no problems taking the potential game-winning shot after making zero before that point. Better yet, how he followed up by keeping his team in a game by making shot after shot.

However, unlike those shots that Wall made early last season, if they didn’t fall, UK would simply move on to the next game. For Knight, the chance to make the plays he works to vigorously perfect during practice only comes once in March.

“I feel a lot more anxiety, especially coming into today’s game, not playing so well (Thursday).” Knight said. “But just playing these types of games where you know if you lose your season is done, I think guys really come out and they fight a lot harder.

“Guys play tough throughout the season, but I think they step it up a notch in the tournament.”

Clearly, you’re one of those guys, Brandon.