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On Saturday, Knight will face team that recruited him

by | National Columnist

HOUSTON -- The decision wasn't an easy one for guard Brandon Knight, because not long ago, Jim Calhoun came calling. The game was officially afoot.

Many coaches were knocking at Knight's door; Kansas, Florida and Connecticut were just some of the suitors. But in the mind of Knight, a fluid and bombastic high school scorer from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., it basically came down to Calhoun and John Calipari.

What tipped Knight to the Wildcats' side was Calipari's history with developing guards, most notably Derrick Rose, the current leader in the NBA's MVP race. There were also guards John Wall at Kentucky and Tyreke Evans, who spent his freshman season at Memphis under Calipari. So as Calipari's status as someone who grew point guards the way Martha Stewart grows turnips increased, Knight became more convinced about what he had to do.

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"It definitely weighed on my decision," Knight said. "A lot of other guys that were pretty good in high school trusted Coach Cal to help them get to the next level and get better individually. That really weighed on my decision, but also the fact that other players around those people got a lot better also."

In the end, Knight went to Kentucky and, well, here we are. Though predicting alternate universes is always tricky, imagine if Connecticut had both Kemba Walker and Knight now. Again, there are numerous other dynamics that could have worked both against -- and for -- the Huskies and Wildcats, but that would've been an impressive duo.

Instead, Knight on Saturday plays against the guy who recruited him.

"I think Kemba Walker is the most valuable player in America and Brandon Knight is as good a freshman as there is in the country," said Calhoun. "There are some terrific freshmen in the country, and we have an emerging star [Jeremy Lamb]. Brandon is one of the most cerebral -- not just the fact that he's intellectually gifted, but he's cerebral in a sense of focus. I had a kid, Emeka Okafor, who was just a wonderful player and is one of the more focused human beings I've ever met. If you wanted to talk to him about basketball during his study session, it wasn't going to happen. If you wanted to talk to him about weight training during his basketball, it wasn't going to happen. "I see Brandon somewhat in that mold. He's not the best athlete point guard, but he is tough, focused, and he has found what he really does well -- his 3-point shooting, particularly, he's improved greatly upon that.

"We recruited him for years -- we sent him a letter, he visited unofficially. So bottom line, he's one of the best players in the country and he's getting better all the time. Kemba, to me, has been as good as anybody in the country, so it's an intriguing, intriguing matchup."

Where would Kentucky be without Knight? Again, tricky question, but Knight has saved the Wildcats twice from oblivion during this NCAA run. His shot against Princeton in the final few seconds was a game-winner. He beat Ohio State with another game-winning basket and scored a game-high 22 points against North Carolina.

"The stuff with Brandon, I told him the other day, I said, 'I can't tell you how proud I am,' " Calipari said. "I've been really hard on him. Probably for the first time in his career he was really challenged to improve. You're not good enough in this area, in that area. Maybe he never heard that before. If he wasn't doing what I asked him to do, I was pretty tough on him. In no uncertain terms let him know, 'You're not playing that way here.'"

"Our coach isn't going to settle for anything less, even if we are freshmen," Knight said. "He expects us to do the things that seniors are doing."

Knight's season started rough, and it included a November loss to the program and coach he rejected. Then Knight grew and grew some more. He doesn't possess the physical skill of a Rose, but he's still NBA material.

And he was once almost a Husky.


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