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When Gainesville High School basketball varsity assistant Philip Knight got his 500th career win Jan. 30 in a 60-52 barnburner against Eastside, fans who knew him from Bronson and Cedar Key scratched their heads and said, “Wait a second – that don't add up.”
It does, though. Knight has sat at the right hand of local legend Kelly Beckham since he took over the Bronson program in 1984, and followed him to Gainesville starting this season. Beckham had his 500th win in January 2007. So why did it take Knight two years on the same bullet train cross the same river?
Two things: First, Beckham was already ahead.
“Kelly had 24 wins when he came to Bronson,” Knight said.
The second thing was an event that interrupted Knight's coaching career, taking a year from his win totals, but much more from many other people.
During the 1993-1994 season, Knight was working in Gainesville at the Alachua County courthouse. He was the coordinator for the jury and evidence in the murder trial of serial killer Danny Harold Rolling, whose reign of terror left five students dead and dozens of lives shattered, permanently changing the character of Gainesville's community.
“I was too busy to coach that year,” Knight explained.
Two years ago, when Rolling was executed, Knight said he was again extremely busy, although not like during the days of the trial.
“As the evidence coordinator at that time, I got so many phone calls asking me for details of all the items we had catalogued,” he said.
“It was a struggle to reach back that far to be able to answer all those questions.”
Knight is being modest, or maybe, understandably, there's a lot about that time he doesn't want to remember. On the bench beside Beckham, his role is encyclopedic. He remembers, with astonishing accuracy, what any given opposing player has done to his team in the first half of the season, or last season, or the season before. He remembers the winning or losing shot behind every banner in the Bronson gymnasium from 1985 on.
Press head coach Kelly Beckham for a player stat or a season record and he automatically defers to Knight.
“Philip knows all that,” he says.
“We wouldn't have the success we've had if not for him. Number one, he relates to the players so well, and he just does a great job overall.”
Beckham says Knight's biggest contribution is his ability to see the game and process it quickly into statistical analysis.
“He can tell me if the other team is going on a big run, which of course I'm not aware of, or if an opposing player has a really hot hand. Then we can come up with a plan for that.”
Knight is also responsible for maintaining good luck, making a grim sacrifice every game day. Since the 1989 district semifinal against Hawthorne, a game that eventually led to the first of Bronson's two state runner-up finishes under Beckham, Knight has eaten a Twix bar before every game.
“I'm superstitious,” he said.
“One time the snack bar was out of them and one of the parents had to drive to a gas station to get me one.”
But he's never missed, eating more than 500 more Twix bars since that fateful clash. Even though he doesn't like chocolate.
That's the kind of contribution Beckham says he's come to count on by Knight. After the Eastside game, when Knight got his 500th, Beckham gathered the Gainesville team and told them, and they congratulated him quietly.
“We haven't had any sort of big celebration, because we're focused on the games ahead of us (GHS is in regional play now),” Beckham said.
“That's why we want Philip here in the first place.”
Win first, celebrate later. With 500 and counting, Knight definitely understands that kind of sacrifice.