The right place
He stood next to Stewart on the crowded sideline, asking for his turn. Keep waiting, the coach told Knox.
When the whistle blew and Knox finally ran onto the floor, he guarded Darren Clark, the Bulldogs’ starting point guard and an all-conference player. Stewart and Brooks watched as Knox defended Clark, showing quickness and instincts that aren’t often seen. Stewart’s brother had played against Knox at the YMCA and told Stewart to follow him. Brooks had received no such tip.
“It was like, ‘Well, who is this guy?’ ” Brooks recalled.
Afterward, Westmorland and Knox climbed into Stewart’s car for the ride back to Baltimore. Stewart asked Knox a question: Had he considered college?
It was an ambition, Knox told him, but hardly a reality. He had tested poorly in high school, and besides, it wasn’t something that’s done in Knox’s family. None of his relatives had been to college.
Even so, Stewart told him, he should consider it. If all went right, maybe he could play someday for the Bulldogs.
Knox later requested his high school transcript and completed Bowie State’s application. He was accepted, and in 2010, four years after graduating from Baltimore’s Northern High — it has since been renamed W.E.B. Du Bois High — he was a student again, paying Bowie State’s $14,500 annual tuition with the help of student loans and grant money.
Basketball would have to wait longer. Knox said the NCAA Clearinghouse ruled him ineligible as a freshman, and in his second year, his grades kept him off the court. As he had for years, he watched as others reached their goals. He struggled in the classroom while working on a communications degree, and his mind wandered back to those East Baltimore streets. No, he thought, a man can’t change who he is.
“There were a few times,” Brooks said, “where he was like, ‘Coach, I’m not going to make it.’ ”
During one practice in spring 2011, Knox lost his temper. He was frustrated, and after a confrontation with Brooks, Knox headed toward the exit. Brooks called toward him: If you leave, don’t bother coming back.
When Knox sent a text message to his coach after the confrontation, Brooks invited him into his office. They talked about regrets and priorities, about how Brooks once was given a second chance after pleading with a history professor for a passing grade decades ago. Knox said he needed to support his daughter. Brooks replied that with a college degree, he’d be equipped to help her for the next 40 years.
That wasn’t all: If Knox could hold on, Brooks told him, they wouldn’t be telling merely a basketball story back in Baltimore. When Knox’s narrative was finished, it would be about how, sure enough, a kid jumped those tracks, leaving behind the old life to graduate from college.