Wildcats freshman a star on court and in class

3/30/2011
By Paul Schwartz, New York Post -  There are times when there’s not much to say because the situation appears too dire to come up with anything to help ease the impending pain.

Such a time arrived two years ago, when David Beckerman, as coach of Pine Crest, found his team trailing LaSalle by 11 points with just a handful of minutes left in the Class 3A regional finals. Pine Crest had won the Florida state title the year before but, despite having junior guard Brandon Knight on its side, was on the verge of getting ousted.


“Our kids were down,” Beckerman recalled to The Post yesterday. “We called time out and I’m trying to talk to the kids and Brandon sensed the rest of the kids were really down. In the huddle he turned to me and said, ‘Coach, what time is practice tomorrow?’ Now this was an elimination tournament for the states. We go back into the game, he proceeds to hit three 3s in a row, gets two steals, three assists, hits four foul shots and scores 52 points for the game. We win [78-71] and go to the states and win it.”

No one back in Broward County is surprised by anything Brandon Knight does, not in the classroom, and certainly not on the court. The lithe freshman point guard is the main reason Kentucky is in the Final Four for the first time in 13 years, headed to Houston to face UConn on Saturday. A first-year player simply cannot do more for a team than Knight has done. He leads the Wildcats in scoring (17.3 points) and has made the decisive last-minute shots in the NCAA Tournament to nudge Kentucky past Princeton, Ohio State and finally North Carolina. In between, he made sure no late-game heroics were needed by pumping in 30 points to subdue West Virginia.
 
“First of all, he is one of the most conscientious, hard-working players I have been around,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who in recent years has sent point guards Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall to NBA fame and fortune.

And that’s not all.

“Academically, got mad at 91,” Calipari said. “What class did you get a 91?”

Knight answered “Sociology,” barely above a whisper.

“Still got an A, but he is mad,” Calipari said.

When Brandon was set to enter eighth grade, parents Efrem and Tonya decided to pull him out of public school and enrolled their son at Pine Crest, an elite private school, reputed to be the top academic institution in Florida and not exactly a haven for heralded basketball players.
 
“In the school’s 70-year history it never won anything. ... It’s considered the Yale of Florida,” Beckerman said.
 
“I know in talking to his dad and his mother, they got a lot of heat from the black community for coming here, to this high-academic school,” Jim Foster, the athletic director at Pine Crest, told The Post. “Why aren’t you going to the basketball powerhouses?”
 
Efrem Knight worked as an engineer for the railroad and stressed work ethic to Brandon amid a religious upbringing. Knight as an eighth-grader started on the varsity and immediately began winning academic awards. He finished up his high school career with a grade-point average of 4.3 (out of 4.0) and amassed 18 college credits with a workload that included micro and macroeconomics and AP chemistry and physics. Any college he entered he would do so, academically, as a sophomore.
 
Knight averaged 31.2 points as a junior, 32.5 points as a senior, was a two-time National Player of the Year, won consecutive state titles and might have won a third if not for a strained groin in the finals as a senior.

“The kid misses a shot, he goes out and shoots 100,” said Beckerman — who, as the founder of the Starter sports apparel company, accepts just $1 a year for coaching at Pine Crest. “He has an insatiable appetite to win and equally he has an unbelievable basketball IQ.”

Such talents and traits put Knight in high demand, by everyone. In addition to all the usual suspects, Yale wanted him. So did Harvard.
 
“In the 44 years I’ve done this, I’ve never had a young man or a young woman that could go to any college or university in the United States, with or without basketball,” Foster said. “He’s the one.”

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