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Knight develops for struggling Bucks

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) - Long after the end of practice, the sound of a bouncing basketball echoed down the hall and up the stairs from the Milwaukee Bucks practice court.

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It is Brandon Knight again, coach Larry Drew's point guard pupil doing the basketball equivalent of staying late after school to study. He's certainly not giving up in an injury-filled, challenging first season in Milwaukee.

''With Brandon, first of all, every night he steps out on the floor, I know he's going to give me 110 percent effort,'' Drew said.

At 9-43, the Bucks had already clinched a losing campaign before the All-Star break. They will be the only team in the NBA without double-digit wins when the season resumes Tuesday at home against the Orlando Magic.

No choice: Knight must remain positive. The point guard position is a leadership position by default, even for a third-year pro who's just 22 and still learning.

''It's a type of leadership where you've got to be positive no matter what,'' Knight said.

It is part of the maturation of Knight, a self-described ''quiet guy'' who would much rather be that teammate who led by example. In that respect, the extra time in the gym - he's usually one of the last players to leave the court - isn't surprising.

But being more vocal was something he had to pick up in his one college season at Kentucky, and then in his two years with the Detroit Pistons. Now he has more responsibility in Milwaukee, both off and on the court.

Knight missed a few games at the start of the season with a sore right hamstring, one of numerous injuries that have hampered Bucks players all season. Since then, he's been a lineup mainstay. Knight is averaging a career-best and team-high 16.7 points, along with 4.9 assists.

''He attacks the basket the same (ways) he did in Detroit, but he's carrying more of a load here with all their injuries,'' New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams said last week.

Knight is shooting 34 percent (69 of 199) from 3-point range while also averaging 3.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-3 guard can look fearless when he lowers his shoulder and drives the lane.

''Something that I had to grow into going into this level,'' Knight said. ''I had to be stronger, that you've got to go in, you've got to seek contact ... That's something that I think I've shown this year and gotten better at.''

The Bucks need every bit of scoring help they can get with so many injuries, including guard O.J. Mayo (illness) and center Larry Sanders, who will miss six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair fight orbital bone fractures.

The distributor role of the point guard job is a work in progress. For instance, Knight had four assists and five turnovers on Feb. 10 against Boston before notching nine assists without a turnover two days later against the Pelicans. He scored 22 each time.

''You can't really have a night where you're not on your game, because you can be exposed on any night,'' Knight said. ''You've got to be able to adapt from game to game and year to year. Something in your game has to improve.''

The Bucks early on seemed to have trouble meshing, which might be in large part due to all the injuries that led to an inconsistent lineup. Since then, young players including Knight have had to step more to the forefront.

A former NBA point guard himself, Drew said Knight is still soaking up knowledge, along with the intangibles that a point guard picks up just through experience.

''Things that you just can't go out there and teach him,'' Drew said. ''There are things that happen within the flow, and point guards have to be able to instinctively make those plays.''

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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