UK signee Knight not afraid to walk in Wall's shoes

jtipton@herald-leader.comApril 16, 2010 

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NEW YORK — John Calipari's last three point guards blazed a one-year trail through college basketball and came to epitomize what now is known as the one-and-done player. John Wall, the third member of this terrific trio, soared across Sports Illustrated's cover last winter as a headline proclaimed "The Great Wall of Kentucky."

Talk about tough acts to follow.

Yet Brandon Knight, the latest fuzzy-cheeked savant to place his point guard skills in Calipari's hands, shrugs.

"I feel wherever you go, you're going to be looked at as someone stepping in, I mean, if someone's leaving," he said here on Thursday.

Oh yeah, that's right. Knight was careful not to step on Wall's official announcement about leaving college for the NBA this spring.

But if Wall is part of June's NBA Draft (snicker), Knight sounded ready to assume the task of replacing him. That's replacing a player who hit the game-winning shot in his college debut, set single-game and single-season UK records for assists and got voted to The Associated Press first All-America team.

"There's always going to be comparisons no matter where you go," Knight said. "I don't look at it as pressure. I'm just going to go there and try to fulfill my potential the best I can."

And what is the potential for a player widely regarded as the best high school senior playing point guard?

"I'm not sure yet," he said. "That's why I'm trying to work as hard as I can."

As if to prove he's untroubled by comparisons to Wall, Knight did not rule out the possibility of wearing the same No. 11 Kentucky jersey. That's the number he wore for Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

But the number has no relevance to Wall.

"My dad's number in high school," Knight said. "My dad has really influenced my life."

Efrem Knight wore No. 11 as a high school player. He did not play in college.

"He went straight to work out of high school," his son said. "No college. That's where I think I get a lot of my hard work from."

That work ethic translates to the classroom. Since Knight committed to Kentucky on Wednesday, his 4.3 grade-point average at Pine Crest School has become common knowledge.

When asked how he achieved such a high GPA on a 4.0 scale, Knight said, "Just because I try to take the same intensity on the court and apply it to the classroom. I try to stay focused and do the best I can."

Knight hasn't decided on a college major. He's considering engineering or architecture.

As so-called one-and-done players for Calipari, Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and Wall never got far enough along the academic track to make a major meaningful. Whether Knight will play college basketball more than one season remains to be seen. He acknowledged the one-and-done experiences of Rose and Evans for Calipari played a role in his college choice.

"It factored into it a little bit," he said. "But I'm not too much thinking of the NBA. I'm more focused on how players get better over that (one-year) time period and how I'm also trying to get better."

Knight saw improvement made by Rose, Evans and Wall as freshmen.

"Just in decision-making," he said. "Controlling the game. Just being overall good point guards."

Of Calipari's recent string of standout point guards, Knight likened his game more to Evans.

"Derrick and John are the most explosive two," he said. "They get to the basket very easily. Me and Tyreke, we're better shooters, I guess. We focus on the shot a little bit more. But we also can get to the paint. Just very versatile."

Tom Konchalski, a long-time observer and analyst of high school basketball on the East Coast, described Knight as versatile and coachable.

"The bottom line is he's a 4.0 student and that's going to translate over to the court," Konchalski said. "He'll do what John Calipari asks him to do."

In reflecting on Wednesday's commitment with Kentucky over Florida, Kansas and Connecticut, Knight said he was relieved to finally make the decision.

When a reporter suggested that the decision caused stress, Knight shook his head. His braids swung side to side over the back of his neck.

"I didn't think the process was stressful," he said. "It was a big decision. But I felt I'd make the right decision because I felt wherever I went, I'd be successful."

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