Brandon Knight, the new point guard prodigy for Kentucky Coach John Calipari, makes his college debut Friday night. In hopes of not marking the occasion, he downplayed any talk of him being the latest or the greatest in a line of backcourt brilliance.
"It's really an honor just to be mentioned with those guys," he said of his acclaimed predecessors: Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall. "They're all great players. They did a lot of great things. My main goal is just to get better right now. And, hopefully, I can just do the same things they did."
Kentucky can only hope.
Rose and Evans led teams known as Cal State-Memphis to 38- and 33-victory seasons, respectively, then each became NBA Rookies of the Year. Wall led UK to 35 victories last season, and if his triple-double with the Washington Wizards on Wednesday is any indication, he'll add the Rookie of the Year award.
To match Wall's debut game for Kentucky would be difficult for a senior, let alone a player like Knight, who is a mere few months removed from his high school senior prom. Wall scored 19 points, including the game-winning jump shot at the buzzer to beat Miami (Ohio) last Nov. 16.
"You know, that was great for him," Knight said of Wall's debut. "I focus on my season and trying to prepare for what I've got to do."
Knight said he had not spoken to Wall or Rose or Evans. As for Wall's triple-double, Knight shrugged.
"I heard he's doing good things in the NBA," Knight said, "and good for him. I congratulate him."
Knight allowed that he's interested in NBA basketball as a fan. But, he added, "I'm not glued to the TV watching NBA games."
Like Wall, Knight comes to UK as a highly decorated player. At Pine Crest High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Knight scored 3,515 points. Among Florida high school players, only Teddy Dupay (3,744 points) scored more. Besides being named a McDonald's All-American, Knight was named Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2009 and Florida's Mr. Basketball.
UK Coach John Calipari acknowledged that his freshman-oriented team will ask Knight to do a lot. As point guard, he must run the team and act as floor leader. "And he has to score balls," Calipari added.
Knight led UK in scoring during its August exhibition series in Canada (24.3 points per game) and its two pre-season exhibition games last week (21 ppg). He suggested that reporters not assume he will be the Cats' leading scorer this season.
"Not at all," he said. "The main focus for all of us is just winning no matter who does the scoring or who's leading in assists or rebounds. In different games different guys will be scoring a lot. You shouldn't read too much into it."
Calipari called Knight a "receptive learner." The UK coach teaches. The player absorbs.
Calipari voiced concern about overloading Knight with responsibilities.
"He's important," Calipari said in assessing Knight's role on the team. "But I'm not going to throw this all on his shoulders."
Knight also comes to Kentucky with a reputation for diligence. Even with a healthy work ethic, he faces the usually sizable transition from high school to college.
Calipari has noted that his former star point guards faced obstacles, too. Wall had to learn to run a team after being the primary scorer in high school. Rose had to be goaded into shooting more. Evans moved from prolific high school scorer to team leader.
When asked to compare his star point guards, Calipari saw Knight as the best perimeter shooter, Evans blessed with the most size, Rose the most explosive and Wall the most athletically gifted.
Even if Knight prefers simply to be the best he can be, the UK freshman acknowledges that he'll be measured against Wall, Evans and Rose.
"I'll probably get some comparisons like I already have," he said. "That's just part of coming to Kentucky."
Knight has played along with media requests to compare his game to Wall's.
"We're both competitors," he said. "We both want to win and lead the team. John's focus is more on getting to the basket. I focus on shooting."
Like Wall, Knight seems to lead more by example than exhortations."I feel I can be a quiet leader for right now," he said earlier this pre-season. "But I think over time I can become more vocal. I'm trying to get more acquainted with the atmosphere and grow into it."
Even though he hadn't played a college game, Knight received a vote for Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in a pre-season media poll. "Not something I feed into," he said. Nor does Knight indulge himself in trying to be the next Wall or Rose or Evans.
"I came to Kentucky to get better as an individual and to win a (national) championship," he said. "I know Coach Cal has done nothing but win since he's been on the college level. That's what I wanted to be part of, and get better as an individual."