The Rides of March. ...And Beyond

Knight lit up Sunshine State as prep phenom

The Rides of March. … And Beyond

Brandon Knight didn't win everything in sight during his basketball career at Pine Crest High School of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

But he gave it his best shot and came close.

Pine Crest was known for its swimmers and cheerleaders before Knight and his teammates came through its doors.

Before Knight left, he led the Panthers on four state tournament trips, which produced two championships and a runner-up finish.

He became the first player to receive the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Class 3A-2A-1A Player of the Year Award four times.

He scored 3,515 points, a total that ranks second all-time in Florida high school history.

He became only the third junior ever to receive the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year Award. He won it again as a senior and trumped that by earning the Gatorade National Male Athlete of the Year Award in 2010.

When Knight looks back on his many accomplishments, the first perspective he shares is solitary, but selfless.

"Above all, I have to thank God for the accolades that I’ve received in high school and college and also at this level," Knight said. "I thank God and give him the glory."

And as Knight reviews Pine Crest's state tourney successes, he speaks of them as the team efforts they were.

"It was definitely a lot of fun," he said. "We had a chance to play in the Final Four in my freshman year and got a taste of it. From that point on, we made it to the championship game three years in a row and were fortunate enough to win two of them.”

Knight established himself as one of the premier players in Florida -- and one of the finest in his class nationally – when he averaged 25.2 points per game on the Pine Crest varsity as an eighth-grader.

He averaged 25 points per game as a freshman to help lead Pinecrest's Panthers to the 2007 state semifinals, where they lost 79-72 to Gainesville P.K. Yonge.

The returning players from that unit put their state tourney experience to work in 2008.

Knight’s sophomore season was shortened by spinal surgery, but he averaged 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists as Pine Crest surpassed its run of the previous year by earning the program itst first state championship. The Panthers downed P.K. Yonge 68-56 in a Class 3A title-game rematch.

Knight remembers the rush he and his teammates experienced when they walked the halls of their school as state champs for the first time.

"It was great," he said. "Everybody was happy. We hadn’t won one in 40 or 50 years. Everybody was still talking about it. They had a big banner up and there were ceremonies.

"It was, like, glory days."

Knight and the Panthers didn't let their success get the better of them.

Their path through the 2009 playoffs reached a memorable crossroads.

They faced an 11-point deficit with 3 minutes to play in a regional game when Knight asked his coach, David Beckerman, 'What time is practice tomorrow?'"

In the ensuing 3 minutes, Knight sank three 3-pointers. He converted nine free throws in nine tries. He made two steals, drew a charging foul and forced a jump ball. His 18 points during those 180 seconds gave him a total of 52 for the game.

Pine Crest not only won that game by three points, but went on to capture its second consecutive state championship, defeating Orlando Jones 60-44 in the title game. Knight totaled 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the contest.

Knight said Pine Crest's title defense was more difficult than its original championship conquest.

"Yeah, it was definitely tough, but our team had a great group of guys who just went out and played," Knight said. "So we were able to get the job done two years in a row and send our seniors off the right way.”

Knight averaged 31.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 3 steals per game and joined LeBron James and Greg Oden as the only juniors ever to be named Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

Pine Crest couldn't quite pull off a state championship three-peat in 2010.

Knight, despite being injured during a state semifinal, managed to lead his team to a third straight title game, but the Panthers fell 70-46 to Tallahassee Rickards.

Brandon, ranked fourth in his class nationally in the ESPNU 100, scored nine points in the 2010 McDonald's All-American Game in Columbus, Ohio, and hit the winning 3-point basket in the West's 107-104 victory. He also participated in the Nike Hoop Summit and in the Jordan Brand Classic.

Knight also maintained a 4.3 grade-point average. He achieved straight As from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Knight opted to attend the University of Kentucky along with McDonald’s All-American teammates Terrence Jones, now of the Houston Rockets; and Doron Lamb,  who went on to play for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2012-13.

Lamb collected 31 points, seven rebounds and four assists and did not commit a turnover in his Kentucky debut, a 95-62 exhibition game victory over the Windsor Lancers in Canada.

He went on to average 17.3 points, 4 rebounds and 4.2 assists and set UK freshman records for points (657) and 3-point field goals made (87).

He was a second-team all-Southeastern Conference selection, was chosen a fifth-team All-American by, and was named Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA East Regional. The Wildcats defeated North Carolina 76-69 in the regional final to advance to their first Final Four since 1998. They lost 56-55 in the national semifinals to UConn, which went on to beat Butler 53-41 in the 2011 national championship game.

Brandon entered the 2011 NBA Draft and was selected by the Detroit Pistons with the eighth overall pick. He averaged 12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2011-12, then put up numbers of 13.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 4 apg in his second pro season for the Pistons.

On July 31, 2013, Knight was traded along with Khris Middleton and Viacheslav Kravtsov to the Bucks in exchange for Brandon Jennings.

Through the first 56 games of the 2013-14 season, Knight was averaging career bests of 17.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 4.9 apg for Milwaukee. The scoring and assist averages were team highs.

Knight was recently asked if the basketball he played in high school was the most fun basketball he has ever played. Pine Crest posted a 130-19 record during his career.

“Yeah, the guys are just trying their best to win,” he said. “There are no ulterior motives or anything. It’s just playing for your team. So I would agree with that.”

True to his grounding as a youngster, Knight continually counts his blessings, takes nothing for granted and hasn’t let his success spoil him.

“I know it can be taken from me in the matter of an instant,” he said. “You look at Greg Oden– he was one of the guys who had that same things on his resume, but injuries have brought him down. I know I could injure myself tomorrow and not be able to play.

“I want people to be able to say that I stayed humble throughout my entire career.”