May 6, 2011
Brandin Knight, a four-year starter at point guard, is one of the greatest athletes in Pitt men's basketball history. The program's career assist leader was a two-time All Big East selection and both the league's Player of the Year and the Most Improved Player in 2002.
A 2003 Wooden All-American, Knight helped lead Pitt to its first-ever Big East Tournament title and back-to-back regular season crowns. The East Orange, N.J. native begins his sixth season on the Pitt coaching staff this fall.
Q: You arrived at Pitt from New Jersey, what made the school an attractive fit and the right place for you?
A: Dr. Marcus Rediker was the main influence that was left over from the staff that recruited me that was of course, Ralph Willard (head coach at Pitt at the time). I got a chance to spend a good half day with Professor Rediker and (he) told me a story that intrigued me. It was how Pitt came about and some of the injustices that were done and where the name came from, basically a history lesson. He was teaching a different history than I had previously learned in high school at Seton Hall Prep and anywhere else I am sure for that matter. I ended by being a history major because of Dr. Marcus Rediker and even now to this day, he continues to have a great influence on my life. And it all started on my visit to Pitt.
Q: You helped lead a resurgence of Pitt basketball, helping guide the Panthers to their first-ever Big East Tournament title and two regular season crowns. Was that a role you relished?
A: Wherever I played I was always considered the underdog, which was nothing different than high school, AAU. I always felt when I got somewhere I could turn things around. I can honestly say, I didn't know it would turn into this many years of success. I think a large part of that goes to Coach (Jamie) Dixon and Coach (Ben) Howland.
I always tried to pattern myself after my brother (Brevin, former NBA player and now a broadcaster with the Grizzlies) when he went to Stanford. He helped turn them around and it is funny, but our transitions to college and helping to get programs jump-started are very similar. Also the recruitment process was something we had in common. (Former coach) Fran Fraschilla recruited both of us; Bobby Gonzalez tried to get me to go to Manhattan while Fran recruited my brother there. Aside from that, Stanford and Pitt were our two largest offers in Division I. The first time he visited Stanford, he loved the school and the first time I visited Pitt, I fell in love ... look today, I am still here.
Q: What do you tell recruits and current athletes when speaking to them about the opportunities before them?
A: The opportunity to earn a Division I scholarship is something that it rare in life. Our players have so many resources to succeed here at Pitt. I give players the examples of (former players) Marcus Bowman and Charles Small. Whenever I talk about our success academically I have to speak about the two of them. Even as walk-ons, they had all the same demands that the scholarship players did; they didn't have the same resources in terms of their education wasn't being paid for - but I stress for players to look at them now and emulate their paths. Marcus is Director of Administration and Planning (in Pitt Athletic department business office) and Charles (Academic Counselor at Pitt) is finishing up his PhD. Those are the things, the examples I like to show our current athletes. You can be successful on both the court and off. The evolution of the black athlete has come a long way and anything is possible with hard work.
Q: As a former player turned coach, you have a completely different role now at Pitt. Is this a role you relish?
A: Some still think about me in terms of playing basketball, but it has been eight years now and different generations have come after me. Personally, I want parents to know their children are getting into a great situation by coming to Pitt. Not just from the basketball standpoint - but really they come and get something out of college. There are many times during the year where I close the door and meet with the kids and ask their expectations. I want to make sure they succeed and that they can fight the stereotype.
They are not just mindless athletes that bring nothing to society except for entertainment- I stress that they strive for excellence in every aspect: in the classroom, in public speaking no matter what they tackle. There is nothing wrong with being articulate. All of those things matter. I guess when you say relish the role, I would say probably to some degree. I just want to give them the opportunity to reach the next step in their lives and when they leave here that they are prepared for life.
Q: Only four players in Pitt history have had their jersey retired, you are one of a very select group. When you look up and see it in the rafters - what does that mean to look at the No. 20?
A: It makes me feel special and I am honored. When they did it (in 2009), it was something I did not expect. I hope that all of the guys I played with realize that I was just part of a good time. There were a lot of guys that helped me get there. We were all responsible for turning around the program. My biggest compliment, and I mean this sincerely, is that I have heard I left an impression on the school - going further than just statistics. It goes deeper than basketball for me. For others to tell new players to try and mimic the things that I did - that is something very special to me. When I see the jersey, it is very special to me and extremely flattering. It's something I will cherish my whole life.
Q: What does the event Century of Change mean to you?
A: To have the chance to meet the individuals that have paved the way for myself and others will be a great thrill. Also, to tell them thank you for the hardships I am sure they endured while they were breaking down barriers. Lastly, to engage - for us to learn more about what they have done. It is easy now with social media networks and they know everything about us; but we know very little about those before us. I am hoping to meet as many people as possible on May 10. This is not an African American event; this is one that celebrates the evolution of the black athlete at Pitt. I am really looking forward to it.