July 12, 2024

Dalton Knecht hones game over 3-school basketball journey, now a projected lottery pick in NBA draft

FILE - Wisconsin's Traevon Jackson dribbles past the NCAA logo during practice at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament March 26, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. University presidents around the country are scheduled to meet this week in May 2024, to vote on whether to accept a proposed settlement of an antitrust lawsuit that would cost the NCAA nearly $3 billion in damages. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

By PAT GRAHAM AP Sports Writer

DENVER (AP) — Dalton Knecht has always packed one thing with him throughout his cross-country, multi-school basketball journey — a chip on his shoulder.

Feeling overlooked has powered the guard from Colorado along his stops at Northeastern Junior College (Colorado), Northern Colorado and Tennessee. Knecht is coming off his final college season during which he averaged 21.7 points with the Volunteers, earned All-America honors and received shout-outs from none other than his idol, Kevin Durant.

That determination has Knecht (pronounced “connect”) on the precipice of becoming a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft. The most recent Associated Press mock draft projects him as going to the Memphis Grizzlies at No. 9.

“I feel like I’ve been underrated my entire life,” Knecht said in a recent interview with the AP. “I feel like people counted me out. Proving people wrong was my biggest thing, and always stepping on the court knowing that I’m the best player and just going out and proving it. Making sure that when the game’s over, they say Dalton was the best player.”

Friendly words of advice from his coaches travel with him, too.

From Eddie Trenkle at Northeastern Junior College: Work harder when no one’s watching.

From Steve Smiley at Northern Colorado: Be consistent every day.

From Rick Barnes at Tennessee: Focus on the little things.

From mom and dad, his biggest fans: Dream big.

He’s melded all that together.

For being here, in this position, he credits a growth spurt that took him from 5-foot-8 in high school to 6-6 now. He also gives an assist to the lockdown defense of Zoe, the family’s dog, whenever he dribbled around the house.

And that chip.

Coming out of Prairie View High School in Henderson, Colorado, he didn’t receive a ton of offers because, “I didn’t have a name for myself,” he explained.

That would change.

Knecht spent two seasons at the junior college in Sterling, Colorado, earning NJCAA All-America honors his sophomore year after averaging 23.9 points.

To this day, a piece of advice from Trenkle stays with him.

“He was like, ‘When people are sleeping, get yourself in the gym and work,’” Knecht recalled.

Trenkle remembered how after home games, and long after the fans filed out, Knecht would take the court again to hone an aspect of his game. For instance, a mid-range jumper.

“When you say gym rat, he’s the epitome,” Trenkle said. “He’s fought his way to the top wherever he’s been.”

Trenkle is convinced Knecht would’ve landed at a Power Five school after his time in Sterling had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic. He sang the praises of Knecht to coaches any chance he got.

“I’m sure there are some people like, ‘Man, I probably should’ve taken that call from Coach Trenkle,” joked Trenkle, who’s been the head coach of the Plainsmen since 2006.

That opened the door for Northern Colorado, a program which resides in the Big Sky Conference and is about an hour from where his family lived. Knecht spent two years with the Bears, winning the league’s scoring title his senior season by averaging 20.2 points.

He took from Greeley the advice of Smiley.

“He told me, ‘Be consistent every single day and keep growing on top of that,’” said Knecht, who’s been invited to the draft.

With one season of eligibility left, Knecht threw his name into the transfer portal. He was sold on Tennessee after attending the spring football game on his recruiting trip.

“I wanted to go to a place where I could make a fun run in March,” Knecht said.

Plus, he wanted to play for Barnes, who coached his favorite NBA player, Durant, when the coach and player were at Texas.

“Coach Barnes is just that guy who will push everybody to their best,” said Knecht, who’s been traversing the country for predraft workouts. “I told him when I came on my visit that I want to be pushed super-hard.”

That demeanor pushed Knecht to new heights as he was named to the AP men’s college basketball All-America team, in addition to earning SEC player of the year accolades.

“No one could’ve projected what he’s done,” Barnes said during the NCAA Tournament as the Volunteers advanced to the Elite Eight before losing to Purdue in a game where Knecht had 37 points.

His big game against the Boilermakers and big man Zach Edey got him on the radar of LeBron James, who mentioned Knecht in an interview.

“LeBron saying my name? That’s crazy,” Knecht recalled. “It was a cool moment.”

So was Durant praising Knecht after one of his numerous high-scoring contests (Knecht had eight games with 30 or more points, including 40 against Kentucky).

From Knoxville, he will take the words of wisdom from Barnes.

“He’s like, take care of the little details,” Knecht said. “I’ve just believed in myself and stayed confident. Great friends and family members have helped me as well as coaches and teammates. … I’m ready.”