Star forward Chris Knight '21 tears Achilles, enters transfer portal

by Devan Fink | 8/31/20 2:00am

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Chris Knight peaked late, averaging 19.5 points and 8.1 boards in his last eight games to make the All-Ivy Second Team.

by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth

Dartmouth men’s basketball star Chris Knight ’21 will miss the 2020-21 season after undergoing surgery on Aug. 4 for a ruptured left Achilles tendon, he announced on Twitter last week. Knight now plans to explore a transfer as a graduate student for the 2021-22 season. 

Knight said that while playing basketball with other college students in late July, he felt a sudden, sharp pain in the back of his heel and could not walk. A doctor confirmed that Knight had torn his Achilles tendon, and he had surgery nine days later. The timetable for Knight’s return to the court is about nine months, Knight said. 

“I was pretty heartbroken,” Knight said. “Especially with the severity of the injury, I was thinking I might not play again.”

Knight informed head coach David McLaughlin and the rest of the team about the news shortly after the injury.

“You could tell that there was just a lot of pain in his voice,” McLaughlin said. “It’s hard when you are a college player and basketball is a passion of yours. … It’s hard when you know it’s not going to be there for a while.” 

Knight’s absence comes as a crushing blow to the team, which appeared set to finally secure a spot in the Ivy League tournament this coming season. Dartmouth received a significant boost in early April, when guard Brendan Barry ’20 announced that he would delay his graduation to return for his fifth year rather than pursue a graduate transfer. This would have given the Big Green a “big three” of Barry, Knight and Aaryn Rai ’21, potentially the best collection of talent the team has had in years. 

“Just a perfect storm of COVID, and then this happening, it just deflated us,” Rai said. “We know we still have a bunch of talented guys who have put in the work, so if we do get the opportunity to play, we’ll definitely be in contention. But [Knight] is a big portion — our leading scorer last year, our go-to guy, so [it’s a] tough loss.” 

Last season, Knight averaged 14.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists across 29 games. Down the stretch, he was nearly unstoppable, averaging 19.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in his final eight, all against Ivy League opponents. In that stretch, Knight shot 72.6 percent from the field, a huge step up for the career 52.4 percent shooter. 

At the end of the year, Knight was named to the All-Ivy League Second Team for the second consecutive season. Had he been healthy, Knight would have had the opportunity to become the first Dartmouth player to earn All-Ivy honors in three straight seasons since Shaun Gee ’00.

McLaughlin said that he has not yet thought about who would fill the majority of Knight’s minutes, emphasizing that there are more important issues that deserve attention at the moment. 

“There’s so much going on right now in America, with the climate of COVID, these guys transitioning back and most importantly, with the social justice issues,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve just been doing a lot of educational, tough conversations with our team, for all those guys that need support.” 

McLaughlin added that the team will refocus its attention on plays and strategies once it is clear that there will be a season.

If there are games to be played, Garrison Wade ’22 could be expected to fill in for Knight at the start, though the field remains wide open. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward appeared in 27 of 29 games last season off the bench, averaging 2.0 points and 1.4 rebounds in just over nine minutes per game. Other returning options at forward include Demi Adelekun ’23, Paul Hudson ’23, Cam Krystkowiak ’23 and Nate Ogbu ’23. 

“I think [Ogbu] and [Adelekun] both showed a lot of improvement last year in practice,” Rai said. “...  I think they both have some natural feel, and although they are no Chris Knight, they could definitely help out down there and surprise a lot of other teams.” 

Interestingly, Knight’s situation shows striking similarities to Barry’s from a year prior. Barry sat out the entire 2019-20 season with a hip injury and entered the transfer portal to potentially play out his final year of eligibility at a more prominent basketball program. However, despite receiving plenty of interest, Barry decided to return to Dartmouth for a fifth year to finish his career in Hanover. Drawing upon Barry’s case, McLaughlin said that he thinks it is a “smart” decision for Knight to explore his options, since he still retains the ability to return. 

“[Knight is] going to be here in the fall, he’s going to have treatment and he’s going to look at some academic opportunities here that will allow him to potentially have a fifth year and play or graduate [and play elsewhere],” McLaughlin said. “[Knight] is going to be in a position like [Barry] where he can make a decision to go either way.”

Knight said he has been in constant communication with Barry to get his perspective on the decision-making process. Knight did not rule out returning to play for the Big Green for the 2021-22 season. 

“I know, at Dartmouth, there’s the coach I’ve been with for three years, there’s the team that I love and I do appreciate the school,” Knight said. “We’re going to have to see how the next couple of months work in terms of recruiting and what I find to be interesting, but, yeah, I would say there is a possibility [of a return].”

Dartmouth finished last season 5-9 in conference play and 12-17 overall, three games out of the fourth and final spot in the Ivy League tournament, which was later canceled. Though the team’s 12 wins represented its most victories since the 2014-15 season, the Big Green still has not qualified for the Ivy tournament since its inception and has not appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 1959.

With the cancellation of all Ivy League sports until at least Jan. 1, 2021, Dartmouth’s attempt to secure a spot in the postseason has been put on hold for now. Even if the Big Green eventually gets a chance to compete for a spot in Ivy League and NCAA tournaments, the team will have to do it without Knight.

“I wanted to be a part of the team that finally made a big change to Dartmouth athletics,” Knight said. “I felt like this year would’ve been the best year. I felt like [Barry, Rai and I] were all finally really old — we were going to be seniors — and it was going to be our time, but unfortunately, things don’t always happen that way.”