NBA Sunday: Knight Moving Past Kentucky
Brandon Knight On Leaving Kentucky
The Kentucky Wildcats are headed back to the NCAA National Championship in a couple of days, due mostly to the fact that they’re stacked with more talent than half of the teams in the NBA, and interestingly enough, they could’ve been even more loaded had Detroit Pistons rookie Brandon Knight stuck around for another season in Lexington.
“It was a decision I made,” Knight told HOOSPWORLD. “When I think about basketball, it’s how I can make the Detroit Pistons better. That’s really what I’m thinking about. I’m not thinking about what could’ve been if I had stayed in Kentucky. It would have been a nice scenario, but I’m thinking about how I can make the Pistons better.”
That won’t be easy. The Pistons have really struggled this year, but if a team is going to miss the postseason, the least they can do is give the young, promising players of the future plenty of playing time. Don’t mistake Knight’s 45 starts this year as pity minutes, though. Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank said Knight has started because he’s the right man for the job.
“He’s earned it. He hasn’t been given anything,” Frank said. “He’s gotten better week by week and month by month because he’s an extremely hard worker. He’s diligent, he wants to get better, he wants to improve. We didn’t give him anything; he earns it every day.”
Not a lot of 20-year-old point guards are even given the chance to earn it, though. Even Knight admits his first NBA season has been a challenge.
“It’s a great opportunity just to learn and get a lot of experience and try to get better,” he said. “A lot of players don’t get this opportunity, so I’m just trying to take advantage of it and soak up as much information and knowledge as I can.
“That’s why you have good teammates and great coaches that push you,” he added. “There are a lot of guys that have confidence in you and prep you for that role, and that’s what that team has taught me to do. A lot of guys talking to me and prepping me for being a leader of the team.”
Of course leading a losing team can be tough for a kid who’s spent his whole life doing nothing but winning, but Knight continues to look on the bright side.
“You’ve got to look at the positives,” he said. “As long as your team’s getting better and pushing you to be better and you see those habits of winning teams, that’s all you can really ask for. Each day is fighting yourself just trying to get better.”
With only fifteen games left in the season, the Pistons don’t have much time left to make those improvements, but it’s good that Knight has been given the chance to at least begin growing into himself as a pro. It’s hard to say whether or not he’d have been better off helping to contend for a championship on the college level, but he’s clearly one of only a few bright spots for Detroit. Joe Dumars, at least, is glad the kid declared last summer.
Denver’s New Leader, Ty Lawson
The Denver Nuggets are a team in every sense of the word, but even a roster of players built with so much parity has to have a leader. Because of injuries, trades, and a whole host of other mitigating factors, that player has become Ty Lawson.
He leads the team in points (15.6 ppg) and assists (6.7 apg), but more importantly he’s been a guy who hits big shots, finds the open guy, and helps keep his team in the playoff hunt despite a ton of twists and turns this season.
“I’m being more aggressive, more offensive-minded,” Lawson told HOOPSWORLD. “That’s what the team wants me to do, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Despite that fact, the Nuggets are struggling with consistency, beating great teams one night and then losing to sub-.500 teams the next.
“I think we’re taking teams lightly that we shouldn’t,” he said. “In Cleveland, we should’ve beat them, then there was Minnesota, and almost losing to the Pistons. It’s our focus. We’ve just got to get focused.”
If they’re able to do that, Denver could find themselves as high as a four seed in the Western Conference, despite the fact that a week ago they weren’t even officially in the playoff picture. That’s how tight the West is right now.
“It’s crazy,” Lawson laughed. “From the bottom (of the Western Conference) all the way to the top, from 3 or 4 down you might be 2 or 3 games out of position. It’s going to be a dogfight towards the end of the season who’s going to be in the playoffs.”
Based on how well Denver has played at times this year, it would be both tragic and surprising for them to miss the postseason. If and when they do get in, Lawson will get a very different postseason experience from a year ago because he’ll be leading the team this time. Don’t think for a minute that opportunity is lost on him.
“I’m very blessed. You work hard, and then all the hard work pays off for you,” he said. “I waited to be in this position, and I’m going to take every opportunity to take full advantage of it. I’m in a good place. I’m very blessed to be in this position.”
He’ll be even more blessed with good playoff position, and if Denver is going to get it they’ll need to do it behind Lawson.
Anthony Bennett, a McDonald’s All-Canadian
Most scouts look at this McDonald’s All-American class and see the one can’t-miss star (Shabazz Muhammad) and a bunch of other guys who may or may not have NBA potential. Say what you want about them, but Findlay Prep standout Anthony Bennett seems like one of those guys that could eventually play in the League. He’s built like a pro, played for one of the top high school programs in the country, and already has the charisma of a seasoned vet.
Plus, he’s the only All-American on the team this year born in Canada.
“In Canada, basketball isn’t too big,” Bennett told HOOPSWORLD. “To be honest, I only started playing basketball about five years ago. Before that, I was kind of a soccer player. I wasn’t too serious with it, but I wanted to try it out. Now, though, it’s all basketball, and I see that I can go far in this. I’ve just got to keep working.”
How does a kid growing up in Brampton, Ontario find his way to basketball, then? Bennett gives to the credit to a couple of mentors who pointed him in the right direction at the right time of his life.
“It was a couple of my old coaches, Wayne Brooks and Michael McKenzie,” he said. “There was a little rec team in the city called the Brampton Eagles. I went there my first year, but I wasn’t too good. They helped me out, and when I came back I was like the tallest person there at 6’2”. I worked on my post movies, so by the time I grew to 6’5”, 6’6”, I went to West Virginia and found that I wasn’t a post player. I had to develop my skills on the wing, so now I can do both.”
Nobody knows where he’ll “do both” next season, however, because he hasn’t picked a college yet. Washington, Oregon, UNLV, Kentucky, and Florida are all still in the mix, but he’s having a hard time narrowing that down.
“This is a decision that’s going to affect you for the rest of your life,” he said, adding, “It’s going to be so nice (to finally pick a school). It’ll just take the weight off my shoulders and clear my mind out.”
Making his mark on the NCAA and maybe eventually the NBA is going to prove tough, however, considering the injury issues he’s undergone the last couple of seasons. Despite it all, he’s extremely determined to make his impact somewhere, wherever he ends up.
“I spend time in the gym,” he said. “I go once every night, or even two-a-days sometimes. Other than that, I’m just seeing what other people are doing and trying to bring that to my own game.
“I just want to dominate. I want to help the team, make it far into the tournament, and hopefully win a national championship.”
Those are great goals for a high school kid to have, and as good a kid as Bennett is, it’s hard not to root for him. Some university will be lucky to have him, and eventually, some pro team may be lucky, as well.