Junior center Nathan Knight announced March 29 that he was officially declaring for the 2019 National Basketball Association draft. Knight’s announcement marks the departure of William and Mary’s last starter from the program, with the others having entered the transfer pool en masse beginning with junior forward Justin Pierce March 16.
In a statement posted to Instagram, Knight expressed his intention to retain his final year of National Collegiate Athletic Association eligibility, should he want to return to school.
“The College … will always stay with me and I will consider returning after I have fully tested the waters and discovered all of my possible opportunities,” Knight wrote.
Knight has been the bedrock of the basketball program for the past two years and is one of the best centers in the Colonial Athletic Association. He was one of just five finalists for the prestigious Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award, which highlights centers who excel at their position on teams across the entire NCAA.
During his time with the Tribe, Knight has racked up a series of records and awards; during his freshman season, he was named to the CAA All-Rookie team, and led the CAA in blocked shots per game, averaging 1.3.
As a sophomore, Knight’s playing minutes increased drastically, and he rose to the challenge. Knight averaged 18.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.0 blocked shots per game. He scored a career-high 31 points against eventual champion Charleston during the CAA tournament. Knight also earned nine double-doubles over the course of the year, the fourth highest in the CAA and 82nd in the nation. His numbers earned him a spot on the CAA All-Defensive Team as well as the All-CAA Second Team. In addition, Knight was named 2017-18 Lou Henson Mid-Major All-American by collegeinsider.com.
Knight became a team captain his junior year and continued to flourish on the court, improving yet again from last season. Knight was once again named to the CAA All-Defensive Team, in addition to making the All-CAA First Team. He put up 21 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.3 blocked shots per game. Knight became the first basketball player to average 20 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots per game since Tim Duncan’s 1996-97 season at Wake Forest. Additionally, Knight’s three consecutive 30-point games became a program record and boosted his scoring average to the highest seen by a member of the Tribe since 1968. Knight also increased his double-doubles to twelve on the season, the most since 1987-88.
Knight’s role on the team was more than a collection of accolades, though. His hard work and dedication to the program were an example for younger, more inexperienced players like freshman guard Chase Audige.
Knight also worked incredibly well with a pair of fellow juniors, forward Justin Pierce and redshirt guard Matt Milon. The trio fed off one another, creating plays for each other and scoring in critical moments. There is no doubt that the program will suffer when they go their separate ways next season.
It’s unclear whether this mass exodus of basketball players is a result of head coach Tony Shaver’s firing after the Tribe was upset by Delaware in the first round of the CAA tournament. While the timing of the transfers may be closely tied to Shaver’s unexpected departure, the decision to declare for the draft isn’t something Knight would take lightly. Professional scouts have attended home games in Kaplan Arena multiple times this season, so Knight’s declaring for the draft may have been in the works for months prior to the season’s end.
In any case, his decision leaves the Tribe’s starting lineup completely empty for next year and completes the collapse of one of the most promising rosters in the CAA. Even if the College somehow retains all its other starters despite the transfer pool, losing Knight will be a body blow for the program. His leadership combined with his scoring and playmaking ability were what the Tribe was built around.
It remains to be seen whether Knight will be drafted, but if he withdraws his declaration before the draft he will retain his NCAA eligibility, though is still unknown whether or not he would choose to play his final year at the College.