In The Arena with Nathan Knight '20

“It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong one stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who spends themselves in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

- President Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship in a Republic

Many members of the William & Mary community look up to Nathan Knight, and not just because he stands at a sky-high height of 6’10’’. The senior from Syracuse, New York, not only excels on the basketball court but also within his professional network and the classrooms of the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. Knight’s dedication and authenticity in each of these “arenas” have anthropomorphized this infamous quote from President Theodore Roosevelt’s Citizenship in a Republic.

Much of Knight’s success within the academic arena can be contributed to his fierce commitment to his studies and his engaged attitude. As a Business Analytics major with a concentration in Finance, Knight’s course-load is daunting; nonetheless, in 2018, Knight was recognized by the Eastern College Athletic Conference for his impressive GPA, and this fall, he made the William & Mary Dean’s List.

In a recent interview, Mason School Professor Tatia Granger attested to Knight’s intellectual excellence. Granger first met Knight when he was a student in her undergraduate Organizational Behavior course, and she commented on the impact of Nathan’s genuine approach to learning, both on herself and the other students in the classroom.

“Nathan stood out for a lot of different reasons,” Granger remarked. “He has this kind of fun spirit to him, and it would always pop up at the right time, whenever we all needed a little levity.” She added that Knight often contributed to class discussions by connecting his personal experiences to the material. “I really appreciated that, because one of the things I really encourage my students to do is to make those connections between content and context, and Nathan had a really great way of doing that. And he did it in a way that brought others to ease.”

Granger also praised Knight’s time management skills, noting that the basketball star “has this sense of discipline about him. He’s so on top of the way he handles himself in class. His individual and team contributions, which are both really important in [Organizational Behavior], stood out.”

While Knight was in Granger’s class, he spent a lot of time chatting with her during office hours and felt she got to know him as both a student and as a person. “She’s my mom here,” Knight reflected. “I go to her with all of my problems. She’s been a great mentor, a great ear, and a great person to be around. I’ve gained a lot from the Mason School, but the biggest thing is having been one of her students.”

The analytical skills and professional network Knight has developed within the walls of the Mason School have translated onto the basketball court, particularly when it comes to his career aspirations. After his junior season, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award finalist entered the 2019 NBA Draft, planning to begin his professional basketball career a year early. However, after spending the offseason evaluating his options, Knight ultimately decided to return to William & Mary to complete his business degree. “While I want to play professional basketball initially, at some point, I’d love to coach or pursue a career in sports analytics,” Knight commented. “My degree makes these options possible.” Knight also recently tried his hand in sports journalism, interviewing his Tribe teammates on his regular web-show, “In the Locker with Nathan Knight,” while expanding his professional skillset.

“A lot of what I’ve learned [at William & Mary, particularly in the Mason School] is about predictions and assumptions and handling the unknown,” said Knight, “and that’s what I try to incorporate into basketball.”

Numbers don’t only represent Knight’s academic success, but also his talent on the basketball court. Knight was recently named the Colonial Athletic Association’s (CAA) Player of the Week for a league-leading fourth time, and, with 2,117 points, is currently the Tribe’s second-highest career scorer of all-time (trailing Marcus Thornton ’15 by only 61 points). The Tribe’s power forward is second in the nation this season for double-doubles and leads the CAA in two-point field goals, two-point field goal attempts, free throw attempts, defensive rebounds, and blocks, among other categories.

So far this season, Knight has led the Tribe to 21-10 overall and 13-5 CAA records. The team, which currently holds the number two standing within the CAA (below only Hofstra), is looking to make an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in William & Mary history.

Roosevelt’s speech once again rings true, as W&M is one of only four original NCAA members yet to land on the March Madness bracket, coming “short again and again.” However, with Knight’s new touch for three-pointers, as the 29 shots he’s made this season exceed his combined total from the past three seasons, the Tribe “strives valiantly” and may have a chance at finally achieving its goal. “It’s part of why I came back,” said Knight. “I want to be here when that happens.”

Regardless of the Tribe’s final outcome regarding the NCAA tournament, Coach Dane Fischer has been impressed by Knight’s commitment to the game and his team. Fischer, who is new to Williamsburg this year, came into the season knowing that he’d need to coach Knight “harder than anyone else.” Believing that he’d need to “set the tone for the rest of the team through [Knight],” Fischer remarked that Knight “really embraced that role.”

Fischer also praised Knight’s physical skills, noting that “he’s got this ability to take the ball on the open floor and attack the rim. It doesn’t matter who’s in front of him - it doesn’t matter if all five guys are there, he can just get the ball to the rim – it’s completely unguardable. And the fact that he can do it on a consistent basis is pretty incredible to watch.”

Across the board, Knight’s “got so many levels to him… he really values his relationships with people,” Fischer said. “He has that unique ability to connect with people… on our team, in the community, with professors and people on campus. Whatever he does, he’s emotional and passionate about.”

With the Tribe heading to the CAA Championship in Washington, D.C., later this week, all eyes will be on Knight. But even with a hopeful community looking up to him for a win, Knight isn’t looking down on the other teams and players. Instead, he’s building everyone up. “I’ve gained such immense experience as a person, as a student, and as a player over the past few years,” Knight observed. “I want the same for everyone else.

“William & Mary was always the right place for me,” said Knight. “It had the people I needed to continue to grow, the classes I needed, the degree I wanted – it just made sense. While yes, a lot of my friends who are seniors have transferred, my current teammates mean the world to me.

So let’s do this.”

The next time Knight sinks a game-winning shot, as he's done twice against Northeastern this year, know that it means so much more than the one, two, or three points the shot is worth on the scoreboard.

Nathan Knight knows both the triumph of high achievement and disappointment of failure when daring greatly. But he continues to take the shot anyway.

Whichever arena Nate happens to be in, whether it’s on the basketball court, in the classroom, networking, or prepping for the 2020 NBA Draft, Knight will continue to trailblaze one of the boldest pursuits of excellence our university has ever seen.