Opportunity of a lifetime
Former Olathe South standout Natalie Knight brings her game to Allen Fieldhouse as a part of the KU women’s basketball team
by Ann Butenas
When watching the women’s basketball team for the University of Kansas play, it’s not hard to spot one outstanding young player whose head is genuinely in the game and whose heart is right there, too.
At 18 years of age, freshman Natalie Knight, #42, has definitely brought exceptional talent, skills, and keen mental focus to the team, and that raw determination has impressed Head Coach Bonnie Henrickson.
“Natalie is very consistent in her work habits, her ethics, and her competitiveness,” Coach Henrickson noted. “She performs like an upper classman in a very unselfish and mature manner. She knows her role and is an extremely coachable player.”
Natalie’s ball handling skills were evidenced at an early age and she readily took to the game, not only because of her natural talent, but also because of her passion for the game.
“I think around the age of eight to about 10, we noticed that she handled the ball really well,” said Tinita Knight, Natalie’s mom and one of her biggest fans. “During her junior high years, I really started to notice that she was a standout. She would play with older kids during the summer months and still do exceptionally well.”
Tinita realized that Natalie truly had a gift when Natalie could hold her own as an eighth grader with juniors and seniors in the most competitive tournaments in the country while playing on summer teams.
By the time she was in ninth grade, colleges began to take notice of this young talent, and that is when Natalie and her parents intensified their focus on honing her skills further and maintain a balanced and fun life with her family and friends.
“When it was time for a break, we took a break. We always tried to be positive no matter what, and I have always told my kids that a hard worker never goes unnoticed,” Tinita expressed, who also has a son Noah, 15, who is also showing talent in the basketball arena.
A 2011 graduate of Olathe South High School in Olathe, Kansas, Natalie has been recognized numerous times for her skills on the court. Among such honors include being named as Gatorade’s Kansas High School Girl Player of the Year in 2011 after being the runner-up for that honor during her junior season. This leading player was also the Sunflower League Player of the Year and the KBCA Miss Kansas Basketball as a senior and was selected as a U.S. Army Top Performer. With intense drive and ambition, Natalie led her school’s team to their seventh consecutive state tournament appearance and Sunflower League Champion-ship in the 2010-2011 season while the team went 21-2 for the third best record in the history of the school. Natalie was also selected as the ESPN Rise Underclass All-America, all-metro player of the year and all-state tournament MVP.
Although Natalie thoroughly enjoyed her four years on the high school basketball court, she is now enthusiastically embracing the collegiate experience.
“The competition is better and lots more fun, but you are required to bring your all every day, whether to practice or to a game,” she noted. “If you don’t do that, it definitely shows in your performance.”
Of course, like most any young woman her age, making friends is an enjoyable part of the equation, and she is enjoying just getting to know the other players.
“The upperclassmen on the team are very helpful,” she observed. “From the very beginning, they were very supportive and encouraging.”
Being in Allen Fieldhouse is nothing new to Natalie's she had three uncles who played for KU: Mark, Kelly, and Danny Knight all proved their value to the men’s team while making basketball history at KU. Even Natalie’s father, James, played basketball for the University of San Diego. Obviously, the apple (or basketball, if you will!) doesn’t fall far from the tree!
For Natalie, playing on the women’s team at KU is the opportunity of a lifetime, but she knows she has to pull her weight and do her part in order to continue with this endeavor.
“I’ve got to continue to work hard and give it my all, but I am truly enjoying this new experience and am getting a feel for the game at this level,” she commented.
When not demonstrating her athletic prowess on the court, Natalie tends to her academic career and is currently studying Sports Management. While she would one day welcome the opportunity to play professionally, she expressed a desire to work for a professional team at some point in her future. For now, however, her goal is to work hard daily, improve, and help the team in her role to the best of her abilities. She praises her parents for being there every step of the way, too.
“They have made me who I am today,” she smiled.
Natalie’s mom echoes similar admiration for her daughter.
“I feel blessed to be her mother,” she said. “I get excited but nervous for every game she plays, and I am also one of the most proud parents on earth because not only is she an exceptional player, but she is an exceptional person. Sometimes, when I watch her play at the collegiate level, I just have to say, ‘Wow!’ I am extremely blessed and am extremely grateful and I enjoy every game she plays.”
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