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Rothstein: Knight Enjoying Howland’s Bounce-Back Season At UCLA

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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By Jon Rothstein
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Brandin Knight is a busy man.

The Pitt assistant and former Panthers point guard has just begun the most pivotal month on the college basketball calendar.

For Knight, March is filled with late night scouting reports, endless hours on the phone recruiting, and constant time in the gym trying to get Pitt (23-7) better each time they take the floor.

“Things are non stop right now,” Knight said on Monday.

But even as the treadmill gets pushed to the highest speed possible, Knight has made sure to take time out of the present to enjoy a key figure from his past.

Somewhere in between his daily work with the Panthers and the time he spends with his family, Knight keeps his eyes on the West Coast. The former floor general admits he’s a bit of a night owl, and has spent many evenings this winter up late watching his former college coach Ben Howland lead a resurgence at UCLA after the Bruins missed the NCAA Tournament last March.

UCLA is currently 22-7 overall and tied with Oregon for first place in the PAC-12 heading into the final week of the regular season.

“I’m following them on a regular basis,” Knight said of UCLA on Monday. “I watch them often. The one thing that I think you can say about Coach Howland is that he’s really shown he’s been able to adapt. He’s comfortable playing different ways and he’s proving that this season. This UCLA team is constructed much differently than the early teams he had there — but they’re still winning.”

In a lot of ways, Knight was a major catalyst in Howland’s career. When Howland took over at Pitt in 1999, the Panthers were stuck in basketball purgatory.

Two years later, Pitt was playing in the Big East Tournament Finals when Knight was a sophomore. The Panthers then followed that season with two consecutive Big East titles and two straight appearances in the Sweet 16.

“That type of stuff hadn’t happened at Pitt in a long time,” Knight said of the 2002 and 2003 seasons, where the Panthers won a combined 57 games.

Knight was also the pioneer in what has been a long lineage of terrific point guards that have played under Howland.

After Knight, Howland tutored Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Jrue Holiday at UCLA.

“He coaches you from the moment he gets you if you’re a point guard,” Knight said of Howland. “He’s very demanding early on and he’s not afraid to challenge you. He wants you to be an extension of him on the floor. He wants you to get after guys like he would. His track record for making guys better speaks for itself. Jrue Holiday was an All-Star this past year, and all of the other guys at that position have done really well at the next level.”

And that doesn’t include Larry Drew, who has been a revelation for UCLA this season. The former North Carolina point guard is easily one of the most improved players in college basketball, and has totally transformed his game since arriving in Westwood.

“He looks like a different player than he was earlier in his career at North Carolina,” Knight said of Drew, who is averaging an impressive 7.8 assists to 2.3 turnovers per game. “He looks so comfortable in himself. When you watch their team, it’s clear as Larry Drew goes, so does UCLA. To me, that’s not a surprise. Coach Howland is great at preparation and putting players in the right spots on the floor to be successful. He’s not afraid to change. Even a kid like Kyle Anderson who has point guard skills is playing power forward for UCLA and learning to fully utilize all the aspects of his game. He’s becoming a better player. That’s where Coach Howland excels. He knows how to adapt.”

How far will UCLA ride their wave? Be heard in the comments!