Brandon Knight leads trio of South Florida players in Final Four

3/31/2011
By Christy Cabrera Chirinos, The Sun-Sentinel

A year ago, Brandon Knight was a senior at Pine Crest navigating the college recruiting process.

Khyle Marshall, a senior at Flanagan, had already signed with Butler.
 
When he traveled to watch his future teammates compete for a national championship, there was a touch of frustration.

"He kept saying he wished he was a year older so he could be a part of it already," laughed Myrline Marshall, Khyle's mother. "Now he's going to get his chance."

This weekend, Knight, Marshall and American Heritage alum Eloy Vargas, who plays for Kentucky, will perform on college basketball's biggest stage as Kentucky and Butler join Connecticut and Virginia Commonwealth in the Final Four.

As they prepare to take the court in for their respective teams, in South Florida, there's plenty of excitement.

Family and friends are making arrangements to travel to Houston for Saturday's semifinals.

Former teammates are making plans to watch the games locally and the basketball community is abuzz.

"This is really special," said David Beckerman, who coached Kentucky point guard Knight at Pine Crest. "When you see that there are three players from this area in the Final Four, it's proof of the kind of talent we have here."

Before averaging a team-high 17.3 points for the Wildcats and hitting game winners against Princeton and Ohio State to make national headlines, Knight led Pine Crest to four consecutive state tournament appearances and two state titles.

The former McDonald's All-American and two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year finished his career as Broward County's leading scorer with 3,515 points and was voted the Sun Sentinel Class 3A-2A-1A Player of the Year four consecutive years.

That's part of the reason so many who know Knight best say they haven't been surprised by his tournament heroics.

"That's the Brandon we know," said Pine Crest junior guard Traveon Henry. "We've seen him do that plenty of times and I just have flashbacks to the games we had here."

Added Knight's mother Tonya: "Everywhere he's gone, he's been a winner. We knew this was going to happen. We're going to come home with the trophy, the banner, whatever it is the NCAA gives out, we're bringing it home."

For a good chunk of Knight's high school career, he matched up against Vargas, his current teammate at Kentucky and Florida's Kenny Boynton when they starred at Heritage.

The three of them often played on the travel and AAU circuit with Marshall, who also had a stellar high school career at Flanagan.

The Butler freshman forward was voted the Sun Sentinel Class 6A-5A-4A Player of the Year in both 2009 and 2010.

At Butler, Marshall's averaging 15.9 minutes and 5.9 points per game.

"He's come off the bench and he's done his part to help the team," said Myrline Marshall. "All he wanted was to help his team get to this level and that's what he's done. It's amazing."

Added Flanagan coach Mike Bentivegna: "It's been fantastic to see him grow. I saw some games earlier where he was like a deer in the headlights. Now, it's coming to him."

Vargas' journey to Kentucky wasn't typical, but Danny Herz, his coach at American Heritage, points out it's been a testament to how hard Vargas has worked throughout his life.

Vargas originally signed with Florida out of high school before transferring to Miami Dade College and eventually, joining the Wildcats.

"He's gone through a lot to get where he is," Herz said. "When he came here from the Dominican Republic, there were language obstacles. He went through the passing of his father and going from Florida to Miami Dade to Kentucky wasn't easy. It's gratifying to see where he is now and we're all rooting for him.

"Actually," Herz added, "All three of them being there is great and it doesn't matter what school they came from. We should all be rooting for all of them to do well."

ccabrera@tribune.com.

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