Mel Knight spent last Thursday at Madison Square Garden taking in the final Big East tournament under the conference's current configuration. As someone who played college basketball in the formative years leading up to the launch of the Big East, was there during the formation of the conference, coached in the early days of the league and saw his son compete at Pittsburgh, he has a unique perspective of how important the Big East was in shaping the college athletics landscape.
"The Big East has meant so much to all of the schools that were involved and if you go back to the early days of the Big East conference, for them to consolidate under one banner to develop the type of basketball environment that they have since the '70s, it's been tremendous," said Knight, who was at MSG to watch the University of Pittsburgh, where his son Brandin is an assistant coach face Syracuse in what would be the team's last Big East game.
"Night in and night out, you could not find better basketball than the Big East Conference."
Knight, who played at Seton Hall from 1967 to 1971 after starring at Seton Hall Prep and worked at the school for 13 years in various capacities after graduating , including as an assistant coach under Bill Raftery and head of Pirate Blue, said he spent many days with Richie Regan going to Providence College during the development of the Big East.
"It was great that we went there and studied the work that was done by Dave Gavitt because at that time basketball was ruling the market. It is ironic the league started out to consolidate and become a basketball power and then you turn around and football breaks it all up."
With the new Big East set to launch this summer, Knight says the change is bittersweet.
"To see that go, it is kind of a heart break. I am happy some of the teams are staying and trying to maintain what was built. Those are some of the schools that were there to start it anyway," Knight noted.
Knight is currently the athletic director at Essex County College.
"I enjoy sports, I enjoy coaching and what we do here. It allows me to make decisions in terms of personnel. To make sure we bring in and hire the right people to service the types of student athletes that we recruit to ensure they can go on after they leave school to become successful both in their chosen field of work as well as athletically."
Knight has been successful on all accounts as Essex's men's basketball team won the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 19 and the District 12 championships in a season that saw them ranked as high as No. 6 in the country. The team is currently in Illinois playing for the national championship.
While the on-court success is important, Knight is most proud of Essex's focus on academics, as the school requires students to maintain a 2.0 grade point average, compared to the NJCAA requirement of a 1.75 GPA. "We are one of the few institutions in the country that do not use the 1.75 GPA," he said. "There is no way that you can let a youngster maintain a 1.75. Why would you utilize a kid at a 1.75 and especially kids that need the academic development to go forward," he asked rhetorically? "It is very dear to me when it comes to our student athletes that they achieve academic success as well as athletic success in order to become successful in life."
That belief is something that Knight passed down to his children, Brevin and Brandin.
"The thing about it is my kids had access with me working at Seton Hall university and my older son (Brevin) at that time would come with me and run around with the managers and act as a ball boy while his mom worked on campus. So at an early age not only did he get a chance to see what it was like to be around college athletes and what the demands were just from a physical standpoint, but at the same time he saw we emphasized the importance of having good academic skills and if you had them, you could go anywhere you wanted to go and do anything you wanted to do."
Knight recalled that most schools did not see Brevin as a Division I basketball player, however because of his success in the classroom, he was able to get an opportunity to play at Stanford University after being noticed by a scout.
"Just because of his academics, he got a shot to go," he said. "That is why I always say to kids. If you are ready, anytime an opportunity comes, you can take advantage of it. If you are not ready, then all you can say is wow, I could have, I would have, I should have."
Knight said Brandin, his second child, chose Pittsburgh because he loved the school. But he was also heavily recruited by Princeton.
"I was very happy that both of my kids understood the importance of education and athletics and they both had a lot of success in basketball and academics."
Knight said that while Brevin was not heavily recruited by Seton Hall, he understood the circumstances at the time. "Recruiting is about opportunity and availability," he said. "It worked out the best for all of us. There were never any hard feelings."
The idea of his sons going to Seton Hall was a hope that had begun to diminish as his sons grew older.
"In the early years I really did (want them to go to Seton Hall). I thought it would be great for my kids to kind of go to Seton Hall and to be successful and kind of follow in Dad's footsteps. But as they grew older, I became less selfish I think. I thought, 'whatever school they choose you are going to support them, so let them go wherever they feel they are going to be happy and where they feel they are going to be successful.'"
Regarding his alma mater......Knight still believes Seton Hall can be successful.
"I think that the last five years haven't been what we want them to be, but if you look back at Bill Raftery, he had a couple good years there, P.J. (Carlesimo) had a tremendous run as a national program. But we have struggled a little bit of late. Still I think there is an opportunity to turn it around," he noted "I would love to hear Seton Hall being talked about as a national basketball program again year in and year out."
Knight said it takes time to overcome the negativity that surrounded the program prior to the current staff coming on board. "I just hope that they have an opportunity to work through it and to show what kind of talent and skill they have in terms of recruiting the best athlete and putting the best product out on the floor."
Knight still has fond memories of his days at Seton Hall.
"When I look back at my days at Seton Hall, I think that most of us came there with the expectation that we were bringing enough talent to the school to take it to another level. The program had been down for a bit and I thought that Coach Regan had brought together enough talent that we could be successful, so you wanted to be a part of that," said Knight, who was captain of the 1970-71 squad and averaged 15.5 points per game in a 50 game career that was hampered by injuries.
"I loved my days at Seton Hall University. I thought that we would be a great successful basketball program. That didn't happen. But the relationships that I have from those days, I would not trade them for a successful basketball career anywhere else."
Ultimately, Seton Hall is where he was meant to be.
"It has been very rewarding for me after I finished college. Those relationships that I developed over that time have been very meaningful to me for all these years."
A sentiment that surely would be echoed by all that knew him at the South Orange school as well as those that had the pleasure of watching him play.
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial