Knight has Pittsburgh back in winning form

With an 11-1 record so far, No. 6 Panthers are led by senior point guard

National notebook

January 10, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Whether he planned to or not, Brandin Knight has always followed in his big brother Brevin's footsteps. Coming out of Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey, the younger Knight was not highly recruited. Even Seton Hall - where their father, Mel, played from 1968 to 1971 - showed scant interest.

But, just as his big brother did in bringing Stanford to national prominence a few years ago, Brandin Knight has done the same thing at Pittsburgh. As a junior last season, Knight led the Panthers to their best record ever - 29-6 - before they lost in the Sweet 16 to a Cinderella team from Kent State.

This season, despite being a bit rusty after taking four months off last summer following arthroscopic knee surgery, Knight has helped Pitt to an 11-1 record. Ranked as high as second last week before suffering their only loss, at Georgia on New Year's Eve, the Panthers are now sixth.

Knight's numbers might be down from last season in scoring (from 15.6 points to 11.3) and shooting (from 42 percent to 38), but last year's Big East's co-Player of the Year (with former Connecticut star Caron Butler) remains the heart of an experienced team that figures to win the league's West Division.

"He's a great leader, on and off the floor," said Pitt coach Ben Howland, in his fourth season since coming from Northern Arizona. "He really has everyone's respect and they all look to him for leadership. He doesn't care if he scores. He cares about only one stat - W's."

Said Knight: "Through all the coaches I've had and the way I learned basketball, that's really been the way I've been taught to play. It's just something that I enjoy doing. Being a student of the game, I wouldn't feel comfortable playing any other position but the point."

Even Stanford, where his brother starred, didn't show interest.

"In high school, at all-star camps, my focus was more on playing defense and getting my teammates involved," said Knight. "In a conversation with [Stanford coach] Mike Montgomery, I asked him why he didn't recruit me. He said that when he saw me play, I never shot the ball. He didn't know I could shoot."

Said Howland: "You know what that tells you right there. We as coaches aren't very smart."

Knight has a better supporting cast than in any of his previous three years, to the point where Pitt's frontcourt of junior Jaron Brown, sophomore forward Chevon Troutman and senior forward Ontario Lett has become a force of its own.

"Their big men are like strong, big guards," said Notre Dame point guard Chris Thomas after Lett scored 20 points and pulled down eight rebounds in Pitt's 72-55 win over the No. 5 Irish on Monday night. "We haven't played a team like that all year. Texas was physical, but the guys they had were more physical."

Said Knight: "For us, it was a game that we needed to win. We hadn't beaten them in the regular season the last five games. That was something that we felt that we had to overcome. I don't know if it was necessarily a statement game. For me, it was the first one of hopefully many more."

Surprising Utes

Utah's Rick Majerus was once considered a hot commodity in the college coaching ranks, but since taking the 2000-2001 season off because of physical and personal issues, his profile and that of his program have dropped dramatically.

The Utes, though, have been an early season surprise. Their 10-3 record includes last week's 51-49 win over then-No. 1 Alabama. But Majerus is realistic that this year's team is nowhere near the caliber of some of his past teams, including the one that went to the 1998 Final Four.

"I think our team is kind of a paper tiger," Majerus said earlier this week from Salt Lake City. "We're kind of rebuilding."

The Utes have played parts of this season without senior forward Britton Johnsen, last year's Mountain West Player of the Year, as well as sophomore guard Marc Jackson, because of injuries. Majerus was already down to 10 scholarship athletes after four players transferred following last season.

"I didn't enjoy last year," said Majerus, who missed most of the previous season after undergoing both knee and heart surgery and tending to his mother (who has since passed away). "We have some pretty good kids coming in next year. We should be a good team by the end of next season."

The magic number

Last week's retirement of Georgia State coach Lefty Driesell left four Division I coaches 70 and older: Jim Phelan of Mount St. Mary's (73), Dave Whitney of Alcorn State (73 on Jan. 18), Lou Henson of New Mexico State (72 today) and John Chaney of Temple (72 on Jan. 21). Ben Jobe of Southern will turn 70 on March 1.

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