With Rutgers hiring Pitt legend Brandin Knight as an assistant coach, I thought there was no better place to turn for more insight on him than SB Nation's Pitt Blog, Cardiac Hill. Managing Editor Anson Whaley was nice enough to answer my questions on Knight.
Brandin Knight was an all-time great for Pitt on the court who grew into the top assistant's role under former coach Jamie Dixon. How is Knight viewed by fans for his contributions and importance to the basketball program?
Knight always had a decent reputation, but I think his stock sort of went up in the eyes of fans with an article that was published in the local Trib-Review recently. It talked about a recruit that Pitt swung and missed on, Wade Baldwin, and quoted his father as saying that Knight was the only reason Pitt was in contention for him. The dad was also extremely sour on then head coach Jamie Dixon's ability to close as a recruiter. Dixon wasn't known as a dynamic recruiter and because Pitt had missed on so many high-profile guys and grad transfers (as well as lost two of their biggest recruits to decommits in recent years), it sort of made Knight look extremely valuable.
Obviously, that's just one side of the story and only one parent, but I do think that article did favorably enhance Knight's reputation as a recruiter a bit.
Did you want Knight to replace Dixon and what was the overall feeling from the fans in regards to his candidacy?
I personally didn't just because I thought the profile of the job was attractive enough that Pitt could have gotten a more established guy. Pitt took a chance on Dixon when Ben Howland left and that worked out extremely well. But as I wrote about when Knight's name was under consideration (http://www.cardiachill.com/2016/3/24/11296796/pitt-coaching-candidates-brandin-knight-pittsburgh-panthers-basketball-jamie-dixon-tcu), the Pitt job is also a different one now than it was when Dixon was hired more than a decade ago. At the time, Pitt had only had two strong years under Howland and it was very possible that they could have faded back into oblivion. But under Dixon, while the Panthers have struggled in the postseason, they have also become an annual NCAA Tournament team. In addition, with the ACC revenue, they are just in a much better position to pay elite salaries than they were at the time.
Knight may one day make an extraordinary head coach, but I didn't think that he was the right guy for the job at this time. The fanbase in our comments sections of articles was pretty well split on Knight as well. Many agreed with me but a good deal of people thought they should take a chance on him. Interestingly enough, after the news that Kevin Stallings was hired, many fans felt they should have just gone with Knight. People have since come around on Stallings a little more, but at the initial time of the announcement, there was a sentiment from some that said Pitt should have given Knight a chance.
It was reported that Knight turned down an offer to stay on as an assistant for more money but not in the top spot. Were you surprised he left under the circumstances?
Not really. Knight, by all indications, was the lone assistant referenced in the Kevin Stallings press conference that applied for the head coaching job. He also previously gave a Rutgers assistant job some consideration in the past. When he didn't get it, my guess is that he was very disappointed - especially since Pitt couldn't land a Sean Miller or a guy with a higher profile. He's a 'Pitt guy', but since he was from New Jersey, seeing him take a job closer to home as an assistant wasn't a huge surprise to me.
I always credit him as being the single most important player in Pitt's recent basketball history and it's sad to see him leave. But at the same time, it was a move that was understandable since he was probably disappointed that the school didn't think it was his time.
How successful of a recruiter has Knight been at Pitt? Any key players of note? Did he focus on any region?
I think Knight was known as a decent recruiter, but not the kind of guy that was going to be the catalyst in landing five-star talent. Knight seems to have been focused on Pitt's NY/NJ/east coast areas, and is credited with bringing in a lot of guys from those areas. including four-star guard Damon Wilson (NY), who just wrapped up his freshman year, Michael Young (PA/NJ), Durand Johnson (NH), Isaiah Epps (NJ), and others, I'm sure. Pitt previously had a pretty good pipeline established with New York players but while some of that was lost when when assistant Barry Rohrssen left (twice), Knight seems to have filled in the gap there. Former player Tray Woodall also spoke of his hard work in those areas and called him a great assistant as well. Knight has been working NY, NJ, etc. pretty good, which is an obvious fit for Rutgers. As an assistant on the recruiting trail, he's arguably even a better fit there than he was at Pitt, to be honest, since traveling will be easier, he can sell the area, etc.
Pitt has had great guards during his tenure as an assistant coach, including Levance Fields, Ashton Gibbs, and Tray Woodall. How is Knight viewed with player development? He is credited with helping mentor Sam Young as well. What can you tell us about his work with players over the years?
I don't know how much we can say about his player development experience since we're not in practices to be able to see how much he's doing, who he's working with, etc. But you can point to some of the guards the school has had and say that Pitt has a strong history of producing point guards that take care of the ball, run the offense well, and are good distributors. You've got the players you mentioned and Pitt just graduated senior James Robinson, who finished his career as the NCAA's all-time leader in assist-to-turnover ratio. One of the knock on Pitt's guards is that they haven't been terribly athletic or improved enough over their careers, and I think that's more than a fair rap. But Pitt has always had guys that run the offense reasonably well and take care of the ball, so my guess is that Knight had something to do with that and molding guys along the way as a former point guard. He could also be routinely seen talking to the point guards during games and I think it's safe to say that he helped develop those guys quite a bit.
Is there any insight into Knight the person or his reputation that Rutgers fans should know?
To the best of my knowledge, Knight has never been in trouble or given the school a bad reputation as a player or coach. I can't recall any embarrassing moments for him off the court, and to me, his reputation has always been very good. I'd add, too, that he seems like a pretty loyal guy on the surface. It would have been easy for him to take a job at Rutgers as an assistant in the past and he stuck with Pitt. I could see him leaving Rutgers for a head coaching job, of course, but don't think he's the kind of guy to make a lot of lateral moves and hop from place to place.
Overall, how do you rate the move by Rutgers in picking up Knight?
I think it's a great move and fit for both. Knight has recruiting ties in the area, is experienced, and played briefly as a professional. It also helps that he is from the area and could mean he sticks around until he lands a head coaching job or there's a change at head coach. Those are all things you want from an assistant and I'm hard pressed to think of a reason why it's not a very good hire.
Thanks again to Anson Whaley, the managing editor of Cardiac Hill, for taking time to give us more insight on Brandin Knight.