A senior playing on his fourth college or university team, BYU forward Nate Knight has blazed an unconventional path to his current position on the Cougar team.
Born and raised in Sandy, Utah, the now 6-10, 225-pound Knight played his first formal basketball game as a seventh grader in San Diego, where the family moved when Nate was 6-years-old. He was tabbed the team's shooting guard.
"I knew the offense and where the shooting guard was supposed to go on the floor so the coach just left me there," says Knight. "But I didn't have shooting guard skills."
A year later, after a family move back to their same home in Sandy, the then 6-foot Knight was relieved of his shooting guard duties by his new coach, only to be given an even more unlikely assignment-point guard.
"I've always asked to play forward or center because that's what I'm good at," Knight explains. "I played point guard in eighth grade-I was horrible. I couldn't dribble. The guys would make fun of me, tell me I was the worst. I didn't play very much. I never wanted to be a guard."
Aided by a growth spurt, Knight was happily able to convince others in ninth grade to leave his guard days permanently in his past. By his junior year at Alta High School, Knight stood 6-7 and was the only junior starting on the Hawks' senior-laden Utah 5A State Championship team. But even then, Knight was not Mr. Typical.
"I didn't fit the mold as well my junior year, because all the other guys were seniors who had played on the same team since the fifth grade," says Knight of a team that had all five starters go on to play college ball, including former Utah guard Adam Sharp. "We had a great team but it was a hard season for me."
One mold Knight did fit that year was a cast. He had to fight several injuries and did so in his slightly unconventional fashion. After overcoming a broken right ankle the summer before the season started, Knight broke his right hand and was forced to play with a soft cast over the first half of the season. While playing with the cast was not an issue in Utah, a team trip to Grand Junction, Colo., put Nate in the middle of a small controversy.
With the Colorado officials not allowing Knight to compete with his cast, Nate quickly resolved the problem by removing his cast some 10 days prematurely, so he could play. If the decision came easily to Knight, it was only because he had prior experience in such cast-removing choices. A few months earlier, with a cast on his broken right ankle, Knight faced a similar dilemma.
"I went to homecoming with crutches, but I ended up ditching them in the trunk and took off my removable cast for the dance," Knight admits. "But don't write that, because I don't think I ever told my mom."
Knight's senior year at Alta High, he averaged 24.6 points and 16 rebounds. Though he had seen his older brothers Shane and Travis be recruited by major college programs, Nate, for the most part, didn't enjoy all the attention born of the process.
"I was traveling a lot playing in tournaments, and then I would come home to all the recruiting calls," Knight says. "I was tired of being recruited. I only went on one trip, to Oregon State, and cancelled my other visits. I was ready to be done. I called (OSU) coach (Eddie) Payne at 6 or 7 a.m. to tell him."
Among the recruiting trips cancelled by Knight were visits to Gonzaga, Syracuse, Pepperdine and San Diego State. His trip to Oregon State was in the late spring, at the first signs of the beautiful Oregon summer. What Knight didn't see was the rainy fall and winter.
"Oregon is a beautiful place in the summer, but five straight months of overcast skys and rain was kind of depressing," Knight says. "Oregon State didn't have a lot of guys coming back when I signed, and so I got a chance to play a lot. But I really didn't like it there, and everyone else I signed with was gone when I came off my mission, so I had a chance to start over."
Of the six-member freshman class that signed at Oregon State with Knight, five players ended up transferring. After returning from his mission in Cleveland, Ohio, Knight took his show on the road, playing at Utah Valley State College his sophomore year, before returning to division I by signing to play at Kentucky.
"I love coach (Jeff) Reinert-that's the reason I went to UVSC," Knight explains. "After UVSC, I talked to my brother Travis about going to Kentucky. He said if I have a chance to go to a program like Kentucky or North Carolina that you will never have that kind of opportunity again. How can you not want to go to Kentucky to play basketball."
Kentucky gladly accepted Knight to its program, but the university was less accepting of his transfer credits. Because of lost credit hours, Knight was forced to enroll in a major, economics, that he had no desire to pursue, but it was the only one that would keep him eligible to play. His preferred major architecture would have left him too many years behind academically compared to his athletic standing, and thus ineligible.
"I liked Kentucky but it just didn't make sense to stay," says Knight. "I lost about two years worth of credits."
After not playing in two straight blowout Kentucky wins, Knight talked to coach Tubby Smith and took advantage of the transfer window at the semester.
"I left with the idea that was it," Knight said. "I thought I was done with basketball. I just wanted to go back to UVSC and get my degree. The reason I came to BYU was because it has the best construction management major in the country, and I could still play ball. I would love to be a general contractor and an architect."
Knight, who is considering a master's degree in architecture after he graduates, would love to start a partnership with his father, who has been a contractor for much of Nate's life. BYU not only offered the chance to complete his degree, but also provided an environment Knight felt was more conducive to his new lifestyle-marriage. Nate married the former Lindsay Robarge of Sacramento, Calif., last August.
Knight is one of six married players on BYU's team. But Knight still stands out as being different somehow. Perhaps because he is now 6-10 or because he sports a shaved head. Or maybe because he is the brother of Shane, a former BYU player, and Travis, an NBA athlete. Mostly, however, it is because he is crazy competitive.
"Nate is crazy-he'll do anything to win," BYU Director of Basketball Operations Jeff Judkins explains. "He has had to fight through injuries, but he is very focused on what he wants to do. He is probably the craftiest player on the team. He's been through a lot, played against a lot of good players and against a lot of good teams. He brings a lot of intensity to the game and knows what to do to be successful."
Knight's intensity on the court this year has been a positive for the Cougars, since he became eligible to play on Dec. 16 against Utah State. Knight has started two games and is one of the first players off the bench. He is usually the first player to dive to the floor for a loose ball and will find a way to get to a critical rebound.
"I love to compete," says Knight. "I like to battle, to dive on the floor and do things to get the crowd hyped up-but not the conventional things. I try to do it with defense, by getting offensive rebounds and loose balls."
Knight's favorite time of a game is the final minutes, because that is when the pressure is on, the adrenaline is flowing and the stakes are high. Everything, including his intensity, is magnified.
"Nate is a hard-nosed competitor who creates problems for others with his ability to run the floor," BYU head coach Steve Cleveland says. "I love his competitive energy."
Conventional wisdom suggests Knight learned competitive basketball nature from hours competing against his four brothers. The fifth of the eight children of Greg and Paula Knight, Nate is the third of their five boys. Surprisingly, basketball was not a big part of their shared experiences.
"I played more frisbee with my brothers, than I ever played basketball with them," Knight says. "The only brother I have every played one-on-one with in the front yard is my younger brother Adam. We don't talk basketball. We talk about other things. We still play computer games against each other over the Internet."
At this point in Knight's life, he is focusing on his future, enjoying being married and trying to help his teammates win games in any way he can. One thing he is not doing is looking back or second-guessing any of the choices that brought him on his unusual journey to BYU.
"I don't regret the path I took," he reveals. "I'm happy. I'm where I want to be in my life. The steps I took to get here aren't the most conventional, but they got me where I am, so I don't regret anything."