Knight’s course is back to court

South Bend Tribune

When his fifth and final season of college competition ended in March, former Notre Dame power forward Tom Knight was done with basketball.

He had had it with fighting through yet another ankle issue to get healthy, had it with hobbling around campus for days in another walking boot, had it with everything that he had to do to play the game.

With his college degree in hand and a job offer from IBM set to be extended in the spring, Knight figured the closest he’d get to hoops would be the occasional pickup game with his future work colleagues.

It took about 48 hours after that final game for Knight to change his mind and realize that he’s not ready to hang it up just yet. Instead of jumping into the working world, Knight jumped at a chance to head next month for England and give basketball one more year – and maybe more.

This fall, Knight will play for the Durham Wildcats of the British Basketball League. Located 375 kilometers (233 miles) north of London, Durham was 14-19 last season. The team coaxed him into a contract by offering to pay for a year of his post-graduate education. Knight will be paid to play hoops while also pursuing a Master’s degree in management.

“The more I talked with the people from Durham, the more I looked into it and felt like it would be good to do,” Knight said by cell phone early Sunday afternoon as he traversed a two-lane road in his native Maine. “I made my decision right there.”

The groundwork for that decision was laid days after a 15-17 season ended for Notre Dame with a first- round Atlantic Coast Conference tournament loss to Wake Forest. Immediately afterward, Knight wanted nothing more to do with hoops. Not after playing 99 career games with 26 starts while averaging 3.6 points and 2.4 rebounds with 59 career blocks.

“I love the game, but at that point,” he said, “I was over the game.”

One of his non-basketball buddies convinced him to go to the Rolfs Sports Recreation Center (the eventual future home of the Irish

stand-alone practice facility) and play some pickup. Knight reluctantly went, but the more he ran the court, the better he felt. Instead of walking away, Knight couldn’t stay away. He went to Rolfs for pickup games the next day and the next day and the next ...

“I couldn’t give it up,” he said.

When the Irish convened in April for their year-end awards night, Knight was ready for the working world. It was just time to do something else. In choosing to go to England, Knight put the brakes on his IBM interview process even as the company was preparing a formal sales job offer that would start in Boston or Dallas.

Knight decided that it could wait, at least another year, especially when education was involved.

“I like to think of myself as a professional student,” he said. “I want to stay out of the professional working world as long as I can. Hey, college was a good time, and more education can never hurt, can it?”

Knight was convinced to chase the opportunity in England by former Irish teammate Scott Martin, who spent his rookie year last season in the BBL with Newcastle. Martin, like Knight, pondered leaving behind the game after his collegiate career. He then landed in Newcastle where he averaged 14.9 points and 9.2 rebounds in 29.3 minutes over 37 games. Like Knight, Martin often battled injuries at Notre Dame, but stayed healthy all last season. Prior to going overseas, Martin figured he’d play one more year and that would be that. Now he may return for another year. He knows what awaits Knight.

“Scott told me I can go over there and average a double-double for points and rebounds easily,” said the 6-foot-10 Knight, who hasn’t had a double-double since high school. “If that’s true, I’m looking forward to it.”

Still has it

When former Irish power forward Rob Kurz was asked to participate last month in The Basketball Tournament, he wasn’t sure he’d be up for it.

Having retired in 2013 following a season in Spain, the 29-year-old Kurz rarely plays competitively.

“I’m not in anywhere near game shape,” Kurz told the Tribune last month. “I’ve just been swamped work-wise.”

Kurz is in the final process of opening a Retro Fitness gym franchise in Horsham, Pa., near his suburban Philadelphia home. If everything falls into place, it could be ready by the middle of the month. He spent the days leading up to the TBT championship game in various business and hiring meetings.

“It’s a hectic time,” Kurz said.

Kurz carved out enough time to help the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni win the 32-team, single- elimination tournament, and the $500,000 grand prize. The only member of the squad with regular-season NBA experience — he spent his rookie year of 2008-09 with the Golden State Warriors, where he played in 40 games with five starts — Kurz averaged 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists in TBT. He had 15 points and five rebounds in the championship game.

Baby steps

Irish swingman Pat Connaughton continues to take his first season in professional baseball slowly.

A fourth-round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles in June, Connaughton is a starting pitcher for the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds, a short-season Class-A affiliate in the New York-Penn League. Connaughton made his second career start Saturday against the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Cyclones. He worked two scoreless and hitless innings with three strikeouts. Connaughton started and worked one inning and didn’t allow a walk or a hit in his professional debut June 30.

Connaughton will return to campus at the end of the month to rejoin the Irish basketball team and their preparation for the August foreign tour of Italy.

Irish items

•The official 2014-15 schedule likely won’t be finalized for another month, but tentative plans have Notre Dame opening its second ACC season at home against Florida State. The date, Dec. 14, would make it a national telecast as part of the league’s Sunday Night Showcase package on ESPNU.

Notre Dame opened ACC play last season at home against Duke.

•Former Irish guard Eric Atkins was one of two players released by the Indiana Pacers as the team finalized its roster for the Orlando Summer League. Atkins and former Irish power forward Garrick Sherman will explore opportunities next season in Europe.

•Former Irish power forward Jack Cooley has participated in two games with Memphis in Orlando.

Working more as a spot-up four (power forward) than when he was in college, Cooley has started both games and is averaging 8.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in 24.5 minutes for the 1-1 Grizzlies.

Idle Monday, Memphis returns to action Tuesday against Orlando. The Grizzlies are coached in summer league by former Michigan State standout guard Shawn Respert.

Cooley then heads for Las Vegas where he will play for Cleveland. Undrafted out of college, Cooley hopes to show enough this month to earn a guaranteed NBA roster spot from some team for training camp. He played last season in Turkey.

•Former Irish Tim Abromaitis, Ben Hansbrough and Carleton Scott, all of whom played summer league last year in Orlando, are not participating this July. All spent last season in Europe.

•July has college coaches on the road for much of the month evaluating future prospects. Notre Dame currently has three scholarships to offer soon-to-be high school seniors. That number could jump to four if sophomore power forward Eric Katenda, bothered much of the last year-plus with lingering knee issues, eventually takes a medical hardship to finish his education.

Katenda has played three minutes in two games over the last two-plus seasons. ¦ 574-235-6153 ¦ Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

 Notre Dame’s Tom Knight, right, competes for a loose ball with Wake Forest’s Travis McKie during an ACC first round game in Greensboro, N.C. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)