Sometimes this Player of the Year thing can be a brutal process, because sometimes there is so little to separate the top two or three candidates. It feels odd to anoint one kid when someone else is equally deserving.
And then there are seasons like 2015-16, when the pick is so easy it might be unanimous among Redwood Empire basketball coaches.
“They were clearly the best team, and he was clearly the best player, and they never would have done what they did without him,” Cardinal Newman’s Tom Bonfigli said of Windsor’s Gabe Knight.
“I just think he’s by far the most complete player in the area,” Montgomery coach Zac Tiedeman said. “He can handle the ball, he can post up, he can shoot from outside. The thing about him, he plays at a different pace than a lot of kids around here. He plays in control. It’s almost that old-man game. He never seems sped up or out of control.”
From start to finish this season, Knight was firmly in control. And so was Windsor. The Jaguars had a breakthrough season, going from fourth place in the North Bay League the year before to an undefeated league season, and improving their overall record from 15-12 to 25-4. And Knight led the way by averaging 17.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. All of those figures led the team.
Knight didn’t do it alone by any means. But his versatility made him the guy Windsor couldn’t do without.
At a team meeting before the season, Jaguars coach Travis Taylor had his kids rank their top five teammates in five different categories: best defender, best rebounder, best shooter, best post player, hardest worker. Players could vote for themselves. It was just for fun.
“And I didn’t direct them too much on how to define those skills,” Taylor said. “Like, for example, best shooter. That could be free throws, 3-pointers, a game of HORSE — whatever it means to you. Gabe was on top of every list. Well, I think he was like third-best defender and No. 1 in all the others.”
Knight played point guard exclusively as a junior. As a senior, Taylor asked him to be more of a combo guard, though Knight still handled the ball much of the time. At 6-foot-4, he was also a presence inside.
“He’s strong,” Taylor said. “He just knows how to play. We threw him into the post at times.”
Knight was a gift that fell in Taylor’s lap two years ago, when the student moved to Windsor from Ukiah. It took no time at all to see Knight’s gifts on the court, though the evolution of the team was a more gradual process.
“My junior year I had just moved there, so everyone was kind of getting used to the fact that I was a leader now,” Knight said. “My senior year we got a lot better and played as team more. We were more unselfish.”
Taylor calls Knight a “connector,” noting that he worked with younger players in the program to make them better. Knight still comes to the Jaguars’ open gyms. He isn’t entirely sure what comes next, though he thinks it’s likely he’ll play for coach Craig McMillan at Santa Rosa JC next year.
ALL-EMPIRE LARGE SCHOOL BOYS BASKETBALL
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Gabe Knight, sr., Windsor
Parker Canady, sr., Windsor
Nick Fujii, sr., Analy
Sammy Mora, sr., Ukiah
Ryan Perez, sr., Petaluma
Joel Seitz, sr., Montgomery
Juan Aguilar, jr., Healdsburg
Nate Hale, sr., Ukiah
Tommy LaVine, sr., Santa Rosa
Conor McCarthy, sr., Cardinal Newman
Brent Tucker, sr., Windsor
COACH OF THE YEAR
Tom Bonfigli, Cardinal Newman