But it’s not as big a divide as some might think.
“A lot of the guys in the NBA are the guys who were able to catch a break,” said McKnight. “Coming out of college they had the hype. They were in the right place at the right time. They had the exposure.”
McKnight, who finished his Purdue career in 2005, was exposed to plenty of adversity. His final year was also coach Gene Keady’s last season. It was a time of struggle and transition for the Boilermakers.
Instead of the fanfare of an NBA opportunity, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound point guard quietly found his niche — in Turkey.
“When I didn’t get a shot in the NBA, I figured I’d go over and dominate in Turkey,” McKnight said. “That wasn’t the case.”
In fact, McKnight said his hard-headedness made his adjustment to the European pro game much more difficult than it should have been.
“In Turkey, they wanted me to run the team like I did for coach Keady,” McKnight said. “They saw my college film and wanted that guy. I came in there wanting to put up stats. They didn’t need that, so they put me on the bench.
“It took half a season for me to figure it out.”
Once the message sunk in, McKnight flourished.
Now 29, McKnight has played eight seasons in Europe — three in Turkey, three in Sweden, one in Israel and one split between Sweden and Greece.
The high point came in 2008 when McKnight was the MVP of the Swedish league — averaging 23 points, five rebounds and five assists — and was also the league’s defensive player of the year.
Four years later, McKnight had to battle through a difficult time. An Achilles injury put his career in jeopardy. After being injured last December, McKnight used the rehab time to finish requirements for his sociology/psychology degree at Purdue.
When the season began last August, McKnight felt he was healthy, but his phone never rang.
“I didn’t give up,” he said. “I kept working. I kept believing.”
The call finally came in December. With a handful of games left, his old coach from that 2008 champion had just taken over a team in Stockholm. The plan was for McKnight to come over, prove that he was healthy, and catch on with another team.
That’s exactly how it worked.
A successful sprint in Sweden turned into a longer run in Greece, one of Europe’s higher leagues.
“Athens was my favorite place in Europe,” said McKnight, who has become fluent in the Turkish language. “I lived a block away from the beach. It’s just beautiful.”
McKnight said a star in Greece can make $2 million. He didn’t get specific with his salary, but “in Greece, they treat you like a superstar. You can live pretty well.”
McKnight is back at his home in Chicago, getting adjusted again to the married life. Besides getting his degree last summer, he also got married. His new wife, Allyson (Riley), is a former All-American volleyball player at Grand Valley from Battle Creek.
He already has two offers in hand for next season, so the next couple months won’t be nearly as stressful as it was this time last year. That gives him time to focus on next week’s basketball skills camp at ICE Athletic Center in Mishawaka, June 14-15.
Along with basketball skills, attitude will be discussed.
“I want to stress to these kids to never let anyone discourage you,” McKnight said. “People said I would never make it out of South Bend. I look at a basketball as a globe. It has taken me all over the world.
“I want them to be able to turn a negative (his injury) into a positive (his degree). Use basketball as a discipline tool. Use it as a way to stay out of trouble. Use it as a tool for life.”
The game’s the same, no matter where you play.