The Phoenix Suns are light years away from their 1993 squad that lost to the Bulls in the NBA Finals after they finished with the second worst record in the West this past year. But Brandon Knight, who just finished up his rookie campaign, promises things are about to change, saying the Suns are beginning to build something "really special.” And while they don’t have a Charles Barkley or a Steve Nash, they’re beginning to build a team featuring some exciting young players.
Before Knight begins preparing for the regular season, he is currently in the Philippines for Gatorade’s FIT week, where he and former NBA player and coach DeCovan Dee Brown (yes that Dee Brown) are training young elite Filipino athletes. We caught up with the Suns guard to talk about growing up in the Steve Nash era, Dragan Bender’s star potential, and why Phil Jackson’s 4-point line idea is a bad idea.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Can you tell me a little about what you’ve been doing in the Philippines?
I’ve been doing a lot of media things and a couple events where we had training sessions with some of the Filipino talent here, some of the people who are aspiring to be professional or high school or whatever the case may be. We’re trying to further their game in basketball, so I’ve been working with them the past couple of days and that’s really about it.
You mentioned the players you’re working with are some elite young players. What’s some of the best basketball advice you got when you were coming up?
For me, the best advice I got was always be the hardest worker. No matter what you’re doing, don’t let anybody outwork you. And I think I kind of held on to that still to this day. A lot of people might be more talented than me, but I know 99 percent of them won’t outwork me. If everybody worked as hard as I did, I probably wouldn’t have a job. (Laughs) The fact that they don’t is what helps me be better than a lot of people.
Speaking of young players, what are your impressions of Dragan Bender so far?
He has a good chance to be really good. As long as we help him and push him in the right direction--our team, our staff, our front office. He has something that a lot of people don’t have; there’s a lot of talented basketball players like I just spoke about, but very few of those talented players are 7’1” and can shoot a three. We don’t really see that a lot in our game, so when we do come across players that can do that, it’s special.
I think people shoot far enough as is. I know we went from no 3-point line to a 3-point line, but the game is special as is. Maybe one day, but I don’t feel enough people shooting the three ball well enough right now to add a 4-point line to be honest with you.
You’ve had an injury in your last two seasons with the Suns. At the end of this past season, you were still able to average about 19 points a game. What’s the motivation for playing through an injury, even when you know your team’s not going into the postseason?
For me, it’s not really motivation, I just love the game. I hate sitting out, especially when my teammates are out there playing, whether we’re gonna make the playoffs or not. I enjoy playing, so I don’t want to miss any opportunity I can to get on the floor and compete. For me, it was kind of tough to force myself to sit down. I love being out there with my teammates, with the guys, there’s nothing better in life than those things, but at some point I have to be smart and look at the future and be prepared for the season.
You said in a recent interview that something “really special” is happening in Phoenix. But last year, the team finished only above the Lakers in the West. How much do you think the team’s record could improve between two seasons?
I think it’s up to us. Realistically, a lot of people probably don’t think it’ll change that drastically, but they’re not in our shoes. I don’t expect other people to believe what we believe, but we have a great coach that’s a great motivator and a lot of our younger players are getting better. We started the season off great, and then with injuries and a couple things in the locker room that weren’t going the right way, our season kind of took a turn. But we see the potential and what could have been, and nobody likes to talk about what could have been, but it’s really about perception and what really happened. Me being around the league, I kind of have a feel for when a situation could be good.
I know you’re travelling with Dee Brown right now. He won the Dunk Contest in ‘91 with an insane no look left-hander. Have you gotten any tips from him about dunking?
Nah I haven’t. Dee was my coach for two years in Detroit when I first got drafted, so he gave me plenty of tips my first couple of years in the NBA. I still talk to him a lot and bounce ideas off of him. Dee has taught me a lot, but dunking isn’t one of them.
You probably heard about this, but recently Phil Jackson proposed the idea of the NBA adding a four point line one day. Is that something you’d like to see the league add?
No, honestly. I think people shoot far enough as is. I know we went from no 3-point line to a 3-point line, but the game is special as is. Maybe one day, but I don’t feel enough people shooting the three ball well enough right now to add a 4-point line to be honest with you. What are there 300 players in the league? I think maybe 60 players would be able to shoot a four point ball. Depending on where they put it, I don’t think it’s realistic. If we had guys shooting 70 percent, 60 percent, 50 percent from three, then yeah maybe possibly.
And for another new rule, what do you think of the NBA’s update to the Hack-a-Shaq rule?
I haven’t seen exactly what they plan on doing. I mean I don’t know how much of a difference that will make. I don’t think you’re gaining a real advantage in the first, second, or third quarter. It’s really about fourth quarter and overtime. I understand we wanna make the game fun to see and make fans happy, but we also got to be able to keeping the games within the confines of where it’s been. You don’t wanna change the game that we’ve grown to know and love just to make it entertaining.
You have two other former Kentucky players, Skal Labissiere and Tyler Ulis, joining you in Phoenix from the draft this year. What’s that been like for you guys?
It’s been funny really. We kind of already had relationships, we were all cool before we got to Phoenix, so it’s just funny to see us all get here. It’s funny to see people call us the Phoenix Wildcats now and the rest of our teammates probably don’t like that too much. It’s not just about us, it’s about all of us. We all laugh about it. It’s more so funny than anything.
So now to talk a little bit more about travelling. What’s been your favorite thing about the Philippines so far?
If you drive throughout the city, you see basketball courts all over the place. You see people playing with sandals, people playing with no shoes, there might be one hoop, there might be two hoops. People are playing from different areas and it’s been a pleasure to see. Another thing is you see is people wearing basketball gear that you wouldn’t expect. Steph Curry jerseys, you see Lakers basketball shorts, Phoenix jerseys. It’s special to see how the game has grown and now it’s truly a global thing.
Have you seen anyone wearing your jersey?
I haven’t seen that, but somebody’s come up and asked me for to sign a jersey for them, and I was actually surprised to see that.