Rock Chalk Weekly: A Knight's Tale
F.O.E. is an acronym that Kansas basketball uses to represent the special bond that its players share amongst each other. It stands for “Family Over Everything,” and for a program that is saturated with history and tradition, F.O.E. might just be something that Natalie Knight takes to a whole new level.
The five-foot-seven guard from Olathe, Kansas not only eats, sleeps and breathes basketball, but has bled Jayhawk Crimson and Blue throughout her entire life. The Knight family tree of Kansas basketball players starts with Natalie’s three uncles Danny, Kelly and Mark. They all played for KU during their college days, which is something she takes great pride in, to follow her family’s footsteps.
“We are all die-hard Jayhawk fans, so being able to come here and walk on the same grounds as my family is pretty cool,” Natalie said.
The amount of success the Knight family shares in the Kansas record books is second to none. Her oldest uncle, Danny Knight, was a captain throughout his playing days and led his team in scoring during the 1973-74 season, taking the Jayhawks to the Final Four that year.
Kelly Knight’s career lasted just three years, yet he still ranks amongst the top-50 scorers on KU’s all-time scoring list, ranking as No. 44 with 1,057 career points.
Mark Knight only played two seasons, from 1980-81, however was good enough to become a letter winner during those seasons.
“Occasionally they’ll talk about a game they played, but my uncles really don’t talk about the experiences in the (Allen) Fieldhouse too much,” Natalie said. “They encourage me where I am now and are really supportive.”
But the Knight basketball family tree does not stop with her uncles. Natalie’s younger brother Noah, just began his freshman campaign at the University of Missouri-Kansas City this year and has already made an impact in his young career, starting multiple games so far this season.
He had other opportunities to go further away from home, however Noah knew staying close to his family and supporting his sister was important to him. His family is one of the things he prioritizes most, so having the chance to play the sport he loves and remain in the Kansas City area is what he thought was best for him.
Yet playing basketball is not the only thing the brother and sister have in common. The close relationship Natalie and Noah share is like none other. They both wear the same uniform number, a tradition that traces all the way to back their father, James.
As a guard-forward combo player at the University of San Diego, James decided to wear a number that represented both guards and post players. His position allowed him to choose his number, but the number he chose, 42, has a whole other meaning within itself.
“Everybody knows the significance behind Jackie Robinson’s number, 42, so that along with my position, is why I wore that number,” James said.
Natalie wears the same uniform number as her father to honor him and keep the tradition in the family. When Noah went to college, he had a choice to make and decided to wear the number 42 as well.
“I knew that my sister was wearing 42 and I wanted to carry on the tradition of representing my dad,” Noah said.
Wearing the same uniform number is just one small gesture that shows how close the two siblings are. They talk often, texting each other before every game, wishing the other person good luck, while offering words of encouragement and hoping they do well.
“We are both very family-oriented, me and my sister, and having a support system that’s so close really helps,” Noah said.
Growing up, much like other siblings do, Natalie and Noah enjoyed playing as many competitive games as they could. But for the Knight kids, basketball is what drove them and made their relationship even stronger.
Using the hoop in their front yard, they played games such as HORSE and one-on-one, which often brought out the competitive nature within them. The times they spent with each other on that court, motivating the other person to become better, is what Natalie looks back and appreciates the most.
“We played all of the little competition games and whoever lost was probably in a bad mood for the rest of the day,” Natalie said, laughing. “But it was more so for encouragement and helping each other get better.”
Though the successes of the Knight family is well-documented, Natalie is being her own person and leaving her own mark. She remains a humble leader of this Jayhawk squad that looks to get back to another postseason berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Natalie has made her own legacy as a Jayhawk, but she refuses to worry about her accomplishments and continues to strive toward achieving her personal goals for the program. She hopes to leave a lasting impression of her own, making sure Kansas women’s basketball is in a better place when she leaves, than when she first joined.
“Making the tournament every year is something that we’ve been working toward,” Natalie said. “If we can set that goal for the freshmen, they’ll expect that every year, just like we did when Angel (Goodrich), Monica (Engelman) and Carolyn (Davis) set that goal for us.”
The Jayhawks finished their non-conference play with a solid 9-4 record, including a 62-39 victory over then-No. 10 California, but Natalie knows the hard work toward achieving their postseason goal is not over.
The Big 12 currently has three teams ranked in the top-25 (Jan. 25), and Natalie believes the tough non-conference schedule will only prepare the Jayhawks more for even tougher league play.
“I think it’s good that it (the Big 12) is as competitive as it is. It sets you up for postseason and I think we had a really good preseason this year,” the senior confidently said.
As conference play is underway, Natalie is looked upon as one of the team’s go-getters and most efficient players. She currently leads the team in minutes played (31.8). Additionally, she is second on the team behind fellow senior Chelsea Gardner in points (Gardner 15.3, Knight 12.4), rebounds (Gardner 7.4, Knight 5.4). Natalie is shooting 47.4 percent from the field (72-152) and 42.7 percent (35-82) behind the three-point arc on the season.
So far in her final season, Knight has hit at least three or more three-pointers in eight games. She also had a stretch earlier in the year where she made at least three three-pointers in five consecutive games, while shooting an astonishing 65 percent from beyond the arc during that period. In 2014-15, the three-point specialist has shot 50 percent or better from beyond the arc in nine of 16 games. In her three-plus seasons donning the Crimson and Blue, Natalie has the second-best career three-point average in Jayhawk history at 39.4 percent (148-376), trailing only Sandy Shaw (1987-88, 43.6 percent [58-133]).
Yet, her efficiency is not what makes Natalie such a great player. It is the coaching and lessons she has learned from head coach Bonnie Henrickson, someone who she attributes much of her success to.
“She really has faith in me to do anything I set my mind to and pushes us in practice to be better than the day before,” Natalie said. “I definitely would not be the player I am now if it weren’t for Coach Bonnie.”
The faith and confidence that Henrickson has in her veteran guard is one of the main reasons why Natalie has started every single game she has been able to suit up as a Jayhawk. After posting a then career-high 21 points against Iowa State during her sophomore season (2012-13), Knight’s season would be cut short due to a torn ACL, ending her streak of consecutive games-started at 51.
An injury that can take many people up to 12 months to recover from, Natalie knew watching her teammates play the game she loved from the sidelines would be tough, but understood that her injury was not just about basketball anymore.
“It was definitely one of the most difficult points that I have had throughout my career playing basketball. It taught me that you really can’t take things for granted,” Natalie said. “I think it made me better and I came back as a different person because of it.”
However, 12 months was too long to wait and through the support and encouragement from family and friends, Natalie was back playing on the hardwood in just six months. Just as she did prior to her injury, Natalie made her way to the starting lineup in her return.
Though it took her most of her junior season to get back to the playing level she wanted to be at, Natalie managed to finish the year with career highs in nearly every statistical category. She knows there is still room for improvement and that she can become better in other areas of her game, which is why she is giving it her all for her final season.
“This is my senior year, so I have to go out and play every game like it is my last,” Natalie said reassuringly.
Although 2014-15 is her last season wearing ‘Kansas’ across her chest, it probably will not be Natalie’s last being involved in basketball. When she graduates this spring, she plans to continue her education and receive a master’s degree in sports management. Her ultimate goal is to become a coach and stay involved in the game of basketball as long as possible.
Obviously, basketball is something that plays a big part of the lives of the Knight family. However, James makes sure to instill in both of his children to not let their family name get the best of them, because he knows there are more important things in life than the sport.
“Leaving a legacy has never been the goal. Seeing our kids do well in life, in whatever they choose to do, is what my wife and I care about,” James said. “Getting an education is what was important to us, not playing basketball.”
Even though legacy was not the goal, Natalie is leaving a legacy of her own in the record book, being one of the best three-point shooters in the history of Kansas women’s basketball. She currently ranks fifth all-time in that category with 148 career three-point field goals made heading into the Jan. 14 game in Allen Fieldhouse against TCU, but is quickly closing in on the No. 4 spot.
Just like her father, having others remember the person and the positive impact they made on the Kansas basketball program is what Natalie cares about most, not the records she holds.
“A legacy is not something that has never crossed my mind. I just want to be the best basketball player and person that I can be,” Natalie said.
If there is one legacy the Knight family might leave at Kansas, it is the F.O.E. – “Family Over Everything” – philosophy that has given Natalie Knight the opportunity to continue a tradition much more significant that the game of basketball.
Find more great content like this and other stories from Kansas Athletics inside this week’s edition of Rock Chalk Weekly, available via app on your tablet and smart phone, or in the web content viewer at RockChalkWeekly.com.
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