by Howie Stalwick & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & Y & lt;/span & ears from now, Erroll Knight will be held up as a shining example of Zag Mania's stranglehold on basketball fans in the Inland Northwest.
Knight has always been a huge favorite with Gonzaga fans, even though he would be regarded as a huge disappointment at other college basketball powerhouses.
Knight was one of the top recruits in the nation coming out of high school, but he averages a piddling 1.8 points per game as a senior reserve at Gonzaga. His shooting percentages are subterranean across the board, including (blush) 42 percent at the free-throw line.
Of course, statistics don't tell you much about Knight's quality defensive play. Or his gym-rattling dunks. Or all the fist pumps and high fives and shrieks of delight that have pumped life into his teammates and Gonzaga home crowds the past three years.
"I think [Gonzaga fans] like guys who get the dirty work done," Knight says. "That's what I want to do for the team -- bring energy to the team and bring energy to the game.
"As far as the fans go, they've been awesome since I've been here. Even in the old gym, it was great -- but now, in the new place, it gets so loud! We thrive on it. I try to make big plays and get the crowd going."
A 6-foot-7 guard-forward, Knight has never equaled the 7.l points per game he scored as a freshman at Washington. This season, he lost his starting job when knee problems sidelined him the first eight games and limited him for several more weeks.
Not that Knight is complaining. Never has, never will. In a program that preaches teamwork and togetherness, Knight is Textbook Example A-1.
"I'm not a selfish guy at all," Knight says. "It's just been great to be in a program like Gonzaga where it's fairly structured; everyone has their role. The guys know their roles or they can't play. That's what the program is all about. That's why we've been so successful. You can't just have a bunch of guys who just score. Everyone can't have the ball."
Sounds simple, but many high school superstars never learn to adapt to lesser roles in college for the benefit of the team. Knight averaged 19.6 points per game as a senior at Seattle's Chief Sealth High, made honorable All-American, won Washington's Mr. Basketball award, then started as a freshman with the Huskies.
Gonzaga was originally one of the losing finalists in the recruiting hunt for Knight, a consensus top 100 recruit who also turned down Connecticut, Kansas and UCLA. Knight's career high for points (23) came in his college debut with Washington, but when he grew unhappy there -- "My grades went down ... too many distractions" -- he contacted Gonzaga, and he was welcomed with open arms.
"He really values being part of a team and being part of a family," Gonzaga coach Mark Few says. "He's a wonderful teammate. All the guys on the team certainly love him."
The youngest of five children, Knight was raised by his mother after she split up with his father when Knight was in grade school.
"She kept a close eye on me," Knight says with a smile. "I used to be sitting at home watching movies with my mother when I was 16."
Knight, whose longtime girlfriend presented him with a baby boy last June, has maintained a long-distance relationship with his father. The elder Knight has relocated to Alexandria, La., having his life turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina when he lived near New Orleans.
"He got out, but his house, car and everything else was lost," Knight says. "He's starting all over ... I called hospitals for days, but I couldn't get ahold of him.
"I got that phone call on the fourth day. It was kind of a relief -- it was great to hear his voice. At the same time, I knew he was terrified. He had no money, no clothes. He didn't know what to do."
Knight knows what he wants to do -- "Play as long as I can in the pros" -- and he proudly points out that he'll be the first member of his immediate or extended family to graduate from college. He's on track to earn his sports management degree in May, and he thinks that diploma would look real nice mounted on the wall next to some hardware from the NCAA Tournament.
"We've just got to be determined, take one game at a time and understand that every possession is important," Knight says. "Every team is capable, so we have to bring our 'A' game.
"Every team is good, 1 to 16 (seeds). I think the key is getting stops [on defense] and rebounding."
No matter how the Bulldogs fare in the tournament, Knight says he'll leave Gonzaga a happy man.
"Everything's been great," he says. "I couldn't ask for more. I've had a great time here. "I've learned from great players like Blake Stepp, Ronny Turiaf and Kyle Bankhead. Those are guys who really paved the way for me -- showed me how to be a good Zag, what this program has to offer, how to win."
Three years, 81 wins and just 11 losses later, it would appear the goal has been reached.
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