For an elite baseball prospect like Malakhi Knight, it certainly would’ve been understandable had he chosen to skip this spring’s abbreviated high school basketball season.
After all, the two-sport Marysville Getchell High School star and UCLA baseball signee is considered a potential early-round pick in this month’s upcoming Major League Baseball draft. And this year’s prep basketball season was in late spring and just 10 games long, with no league championship or postseason to play for.
So, with basketball season spanning into June and no opportunity for Knight and his teammates to make another run to the state tournament, was it worth the risk of suffering an injury that could affect his MLB draft stock?
“There’s a lot of reasons why he wouldn’t play that season,” Marysville Getchell boys basketball coach Corby Schuh said. “… He could’ve just bagged it and just focused on baseball.”
But for Knight, that was never even a consideration.
“It was never really a thought not to play,” he said. “Playing this last year was super important. (It was) my last year playing basketball — playing with my friends who I’ve played with since like third grade. So I just wanted one last opportunity to play basketball with my friends that I grew up with.”
Knight sure made the most of that opportunity and went out in style.
After leading the Chargers to their first-ever state tournament appearance last year, the ultra-talented senior guard capped his decorated prep career with another massive season.
Knight filled the stat sheet with more jaw-dropping numbers this spring, averaging 28.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 4.2 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. He scored more than 35 points in three of the nine games he played and accounted for 45% of Marysville Getchell’s scoring, while leading his team to a 6-4 record. It was the third year in a row that he averaged more than 25 points per game.
For his spectacular senior campaign, Knight is The Herald’s All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.
“It was absolutely amazing what he did on the court this year, just doing it all — scoring, rebounding, stealing, assisting, leading,” Schuh said. “Just another amazing, amazing year by him.”
And it was even more impressive considering what little time Knight had to prepare for the season. In a normal year, he’d be able to spend time in the fall getting ready for basketball. But with this year’s season not starting until May, he didn’t have a chance to get into his typical hoops shape, due to his busy spring baseball schedule.
In fact, Knight had essentially gone about 14 months without playing basketball.
“It was kind of difficult, because the last time I played basketball before this season was last basketball season,” he said. “So I was pretty rusty, not gonna lie.”
Of course, it’s all relative for an elite athlete like Knight. He still scored 20 points in a season-opening win over Arlington and 15 points the next game against Glacier Peak before hurting his ankle in the fourth quarter of that contest.
That injury sidelined Knight for his team’s third game. But he was determined not to let it keep him out beyond that.
Knight returned to the court in the Chargers’ fourth game and put up back-to-back big performances, scoring 37 points against Monroe and 36 against Lake Stevens.
“My ankle was still only like 75 (or) 80%,” he said. “I just put an ankle brace on as high as I could, took some ibuprofen before the game and just gave it all I got. I (didn’t) want to miss any more games, because we only had seven games left. So I just wanted to be out there with my teammates and do everything that I could.”
After returning from the injury, Knight averaged nearly 32 points over the final seven games of the season. He scored at least 26 points in all seven of those contests.
“Oh my gosh, he was absolutely on a mission,” Schuh said.
Knight’s best performance came in the final game of his career, when he totaled 36 points and 14 rebounds to carry Marysville Getchell to a season-ending win over Jackson. He scored 23 points in the second half, helping the Chargers turn a four-point halftime deficit into an eight-point victory.
And despite spending most of the game being guarded by one of Jackson’s two tall post players — one is 6-foot-6 and the other is 6-foot-5 — the 6-foot-3 Knight did most of his damage in the paint.
On a few occasions, he did so by attacking the rim from the perimeter with his quick burst and smooth athleticism. Other times, he posted up and used a pump fake or a step-through move, along with his great body control and finishing ability, to score on one of the taller defenders.
“That might be one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play for the whole 32 minutes,” Schuh said. “Now, he’s had moments where he’s taken over games. … But this one, I think from start to finish, was probably the most complete basketball game that he’s played at Getchell. Absolutely amazing way to go out.”
Knight leaves behind an enormous legacy at Marysville Getchell, where he lifted the boys basketball program to heights it’d never reached before in its young history.
As a sophomore, Knight averaged 25.7 points per game and led the Chargers to an 11-win season, which at the time was the program’s highest win total since its inception in 2011.
As a junior, Knight bumped his averages to 26.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, while leading Marysville Getchell to 17 victories and the program’s first-ever trip to the Hardwood Classic. He was exceptional during the Chargers’ run to the Tacoma Dome, averaging 27.5 points per game over the course of four consecutive postseason elimination-game wins.
And after another sensational season this spring, Knight finished his career with approximately 1,800 points. If it’d been a normal-length season, he would’ve been on pace to eclipse the 2,000-point mark.
“It’s really difficult to put into words what he’s done for our basketball program,” Schuh said. “… I might not ever have the opportunity to coach a player of that level again.”
Knight said what he and his teammates accomplished at Marysville Getchell was particularly meaningful.
Ever since the school opened a decade ago, Marysville Getchell’s athletic teams have often played second fiddle to those from crosstown rival Marysville Pilchuck. And with open enrollment in Marysville School District, Knight could’ve chosen to attend the town’s traditionally more successful sports school. But he and his friends wanted to create a legacy at Marysville Getchell.
“We all wanted to go to Getchell to kind of change the culture around,” Knight said. “MP was always pretty good, and we wanted to kind of be like the first people to go to Getchell and turn it around. So for us to do that… is super cool.”
Knight’s future is in baseball. But in an alternate world where he was continuing his basketball career in college, what level could he play at?
“I think he could play in the Pac-12, no question,” Schuh said. “… He can do it all. He can defend, he can rebound, he can pass the ball, he can handle it, he doesn’t get fazed by pressure, he’s quick.
“He’s smart, too,” Schuh added. “Some guys are really athletic and they’re good high school players, but maybe once you get to that (Pac-12) level, sometimes their basketball IQ isn’t good enough to be able to compete at that level. He’s got all the tools that he needs, and he’s got high IQ. … So I think he could play point guard at the Pac-12 level.”
But if Knight plays in the Pac-12, it’ll be on the baseball field. He also has the option of going pro in baseball after his likely selection in the upcoming MLB draft.
“I’m definitely gonna miss basketball,” Knight said. “It’s been a part of my life since I can remember — ever since I was a little kid. … But I’m looking forward to just focusing on baseball now.”