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From the Pressbox: Tom Leach's dish on Brandon Knight

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Thumbnail image for Knight.jpegA freshman guard coached by John Calipari is blossoming at the end of the season.  Boy, who would have seen that coming, right?

Kentucky's Brandon Knight is joining the line that includes the likes of Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall. Through the Feb. 12 loss at Vanderbilt, Knight had 88 assists to 81 turnovers and was averaging about four free-throw attempts per game. 

In the past nine games, Knight's assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 2-to-1 and he's shooting twice as many free throws per game.

Not that interested in stats? Then just use the eyeball test. He's attacking defenses in transition, he's finding open teammates and he's vocally taking charge of his team on the court.

"Those kids were the same way," Calipari said of Knight's comparison to Rose, Evans and Wall. "Everybody had questions about them as point guards. I can remember Dick Vitale absolutely killing Derrick Rose in (Madison Square) Garden when we played Southern Cal. The same with John Wall -- he turns it over, he's not a true point. Same with Tyreke (Evans) -- he's not a point guard, he's a scorer, he's this, he's that. What I'm seeing is the same thing. (Knight) is getting better."

Like most freshmen, Knight had to adjust to the college game.

"Early in the season, he was still trying to figure it out," Calipari said. "All the point guards I've had have done that, but as the season goes on, there's that point where you say wow. He's starting to hit that stride, but you've got to finish that way. It was at different times for all of them."

Calipari said each of those point guards brought their own particular mix of skills to the position but there are some common traits.

"He has a large work capacity and those guys all did," Calipari said of Knight. "He doesn't have the physical attributes that those guys have.  Brandon is fast and he's quick but those guys are physically stronger. But none of the three shoot the ball like Brandon does. And he just turned 19, so I think you're going to see some special things out of him, too."

Remember Knight's first game as a Wildcat? It was an exhibition game in Canada in which he scored 31 points and did not make a single turnover. As the season unfolded and the coach was trying to find the best way for this team to play to reach its potential, Calipari said he let Knight slip on some things like the transition game. 

In mid-February, Calipari began preaching to Knight to "capture the middle of the floor," so he could maximize his weapons against the opponent.

"He can see people up the floor that are open," Calipari said. "When you go down the side, you're playing against five defenders. In the middle of the floor, they can't do that. We got away from that and that's as much my fault. Early on, that's what we talked about, even before we went to Canada."

And what about the increased trips to the charity stripe?

"He's not settling for jumpers," Calipari said. "He's getting to the rim, capturing the middle of the floor in transition."

Others have taken note of how Knight is evolving as Kentucky's floor general. Take former UK star and 1998 Final Four MVP Jeff Sheppard.

"I absolutely love Brandon Knight, as does my 6-year-old son, who wears his No. 12 jersey," Sheppard said on "The Leach Report" radio show last week. "I just hope he'll stay around. I think he can be the all-time leading scorer at Kentucky. I think he can lead Kentucky teams to a Final Four or a national championship and I think he can be remembered like one of those players like Richie Farmer or Sean Woods and (Deron) Feldhaus and (John) Pelphrey and (Jamal) Mashburn -- one of those pivotal guys that helped turn the momentum of Kentucky basketball back around. 

"Selfishly," he added, "I want a role model like that to stick around for a long time."

ESPN analyst and former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried was once a pretty fair point guard himself,  and he's effusive in his praise of the Kentucky quarterback.

"I think he's got a chance to be a great player," Gottfried said on the same radio show. "As soon as he gets an outlet pass, first thing he does is catch and look quickly. His head is up, his eyes are up."

Gottfried said Knight, who averages a team-leading 17.5 points per game, is Kentucky's MVP.

"He's the player they cannot play without," Gottfried said. "He's the most valuable player. When you have a point guard that can't score, you're going to play four on five. But when you've got a point guard that can shoot -- I had Mo Williams at Alabama and he could get 24, 25 points in a game. All the great point guards in the NBA can score the ball, and I think being coached by John Calipari has helped him. It's made him a better player all the way around."

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