by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree

Pine Crest High senior point guard Brandon Knight was named the 2010 Gatorade male athlete of the year on Wednesday at the brand’s annual luncheon in Los Angeles.

A two-time Gatorade National boys basketball Player of the Year, Knight led the Panthers to the class 3A state title game this past season, averaging 32 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Brandon was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time immediately after his big win.

SLAM: Congratulations on winning athlete of the year.
Brandon Knight: Thank you.

SLAM: Talk about this past season. I know you tweaked your groBrandon Knight & Kevin Lovein in the state semifinal game. Sounds like that held you back in the state championship game.
BK: I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do at all. I think it hurt our team a little bit. Hurt our morale a little. I think that contributed to the loss a lot.

SLAM: How heartbreaking was that experience for you?
BK: I was really upset. I still don’t like talking about it. We won two but I wanted three in a row. Sometimes things don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.

SLAM: With your haircut, are you already feeling faster?
BK: Yeah. I’m trying to have that mindset that I am faster.

SLAM: Was it hard to do? You had been growing your hair for a long time.
BK: Since the fourth grade. It was tough to cut it. I’ve had one person do my hair all my life and that person wasn’t coming to Kentucky with me. I’m very picky about them and less picky about a haircut.

SLAM: Talk about your decision to go to Kentucky. I know you did something unique in signing an aid agreement rather than a letter of intent that would have had you bound to the University. Brilliant move. There was definitely a lot of talk about Coach Cal leaving at that time and it sounds like this gave you some flexibility in case things didn’t work out.
BK: Yeah, just in case I decided to change my mind if coach decided to go do something better for his family or something of that nature. I would have that opportunity and that option, not be locked up. I trust coach Cal and the coaching staff and players around me. It was really something my family had always said we would do. Just in case because you never know.

SLAM: Do you think a lot of other prospects will follow in your footsteps and do something similar?
BK: I don’t think many people know you don’t have to sign an actual LOI. So, I’m not sure. But I don’t see why not. It’s a win-win situation for the player.

SLAM: Was Coach Cal and the Kentucky people cool with it?
BK: Yeah, they were fine with it. They know once I give my word, I’m going to be there. That’s how my family is and that’s how my dad raised me to be.

SLAM: Tell me about Coach Cal. I know he’s a big reason you chose Kentucky. How did you guys connect?
BK: Just the fact that he seemed sincere. I talked to a lot of guys and couldn’t tell who was sincere and who wasn’t. Coach Cal seemed like he was. The proof is in the pudding. He’s a winner and I wanted to play for a winner. He’s a guy that loves winning—you can see it in his eyes during games. He gets mad at the simplest things, like leaving a guy open. That’s kind of how I am—when I leave a guy open I get really mad at myself. Playing for someone like me will motivate me to get better.

SLAM: You love their style of play?
BK: Yes. It’s free: get to the basket, attacking the rim a lot and putting a lot of pressure on defense throughout the entire game. When you play like that, it leads to a lot of turnovers on the other end. That helps a lot in terms of making the game easier.

SLAM: It sounds like some of the people who recruited you were hard to relate to. What is it about Coach Cal that makes you feel comfortable?
BK: The way he greets you and treats you like a regular person. He acts like a regular person, he’s very down to earth. I think some of the coaches thought they were above the situation. We really connected while he was recruiting me.

SLAM: When we talked last year you mentioned how important academics are and how you like math. You’ve been tabbed as a fantastic player for a few years now. Some guys who feel like basketball is their future decide not to focus in the classroom, but that was never you.
BK: A lot of your morals and how you behave is about how you grew up. Once I got straight A’s for the first time, my dad wasn’t having it if I got a B. I was always brought up with education coming first. That’s just my nature—I can’t think about not doing good in school. When I’m not doing good in school, I don’t feel good. It’s something I take a lot of pride in.

SLAM: We talked about where your game was at this time last year. How much have you developed since then and what would you say about your game today?
BK: I think I’m a little bit smarter and a more under control. I want to become impeccable. There’s always going to be things you have to get better at but I want people to have to nitpick to find something about me that I need to get better at. The key for me is working on finishing, being a floor general and controlling the tempo. Fine tuning a lot of things.

SLAM: Well, you’re a busy man. Do you still find time to read our magazine?
BK: Oh yeah, definitely. That’s one of the premier magazines right now. Who doesn’t read SLAM?

SLAM: Thank you for your time Brandon. All of us at SLAM are very excited to see you play at Kentucky and have great admiration for the person you are on and off the court.
BK: Thank you very much.