By LARRY VAUGHT
Even though Brandon KnightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dream has always been to play in the NBA, putting his name into the NBA draft was Ã¢â‚¬Å“bittersweetÃ¢â‚¬Â for both the Kentucky freshman and his parents, Tonya and Efrem Knight.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“One promise he made to me and his dad is that he would finish his degree. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s important to everybody because heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s always taken great pride in his academics,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Tonya Knight.
Many UK fans hoped the thought of completing his degree by this time next year due to the college credit hours Knight earned in high school would possibly persuade him to come back to UK for another year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Getting his degree is the least of my worries. I know heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll do that in the summers or whenever. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s too good a student not to get that done,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said.
HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also too good a point guard to probably not leave his name in the NBA draft. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still not hired an agent and has until May 8 to withdraw from the draft and still return to Kentucky, but most mock drafts have him projected as a top 10 pick.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He is testing the (draft) waters now. Should it be definite that he stays in the draft, he just wants to play basketball. He told his dad and myself to take care of the rest (hiring an agent). He just wants to work out and play basketball,Ã¢â‚¬Â Tonya Knight said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Right now heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s making sure he finishes his course work and getting ready for finals. I am not exactly sure what workouts or stuff he might be doing for (NBA) teams. Coach (John) Calipari has a couple of things he will do, but I am not sure what the next steps will be. However, doing that and finishing the semester wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be a problem. Brandon is used to doing more than one thing at a time.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Knight did plenty for the Wildcats to help them finish 29-9 and reach the Final Four before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut. He averaged a team-high 17.3 points per game and led the Cats with 159 assists. His 657 points were the most ever by a UK freshman.Ã‚Â He also shot 37.7 percent from 3-point range where his 87 3-pointers were another freshman record.
Tonya Knight is a bit perplexed at why some UK fans seem upset that her son probably will leave for the NBA.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I know a lot of fans are upset. I read the (Internet) message boards,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It breaks my heart that some fans feel that way. He left everything on the court. He gave 100 percent every time he played.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This was a very difficult decision. He loves Kentucky. The NBA has always been a dream for him. Both were right there and he had to pick.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Shame on anyone with hard feelings for Knight about his decision to leave school and pursue a professional career. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been a straight-A student and a model student-athlete on and off the floor. He hit game-winning shots with the same zest he aced his academic work.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Getting to the Final Four will easily be my best memory of the season,Ã¢â‚¬Â Tonya Knight said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Not many people thought they could do it, but I did. I am sure that will be his best memory, too.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She said her son wishes he could have waited until after the semester ended to even announce his plans. However, NBA deadlines gave him no choice but to make his initial entry into the draft when he did Wednesday.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We never talked about the NBA during the year. He was always focused on Kentucky and winning the championship. He never thought about next year until the season ended,Ã¢â‚¬Â KnightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mother said.
The family also isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t worried about a potential NBA lockout that could wipe out most or all of the 2011-12 season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If that happens, he wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get paid whether heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in the NBA or college,Ã¢â‚¬Â Tonya Knight laughed and said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have been taking care of him for 19 years. What is one more year? The worst case scenario if he stays in the draft is that he would not get paid, but we can handle that if it happens. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re used to that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Tonya Knight admits it would take Ã¢â‚¬Å“something unexpectedÃ¢â‚¬Â for her son to take his name out of the draft based on information Calipari has provided from his contacts with NBA personnel.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have never worried about what he would do or where he would go,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He always expected excellence in everything he did because we expected that from him. We never accepted mediocrity in anything he did. If you do, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what you will get. We have always told him he was excellent, special and loved.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But all this is so bittersweet for us. I hope he goes some place close to here so I can stay living here and working here. I love working (for Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing). It has been great and Lexington has been great. I just hope everyone understands what a difficult decision this has been for Brandon and will respect what he did because he never did anything but his best.Ã¢â‚¬Â