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  • Jack Bergamini

Northeastern's Knox Lendall: Trying to Join the Coaching Club



Knox Lendall had an odd goal.


As a freshman on Bishop Fenwick High School’s basketball team in Peabody, Massachusetts, he wanted to decrease his playing time.


At least potentially.


His family and others in the area had decided to host some basketball loving Chinese exchange students.


Knox made it his mission to include them as a part of the team. He encouraged his coach, John Preziosa, to let them play.


Coach Preziosa agreed to let them—try out.


Knox knew it was unlikely they would make it. Bishop Fenwick had a fairly good program.


But giving the students the opportunity to try out and feel a part of the team in any capacity remained important to Knox. He saw the bigger picture of giving these students a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity.


Well one, amazingly, actually made the team.


All thanks to Knox.


Impacting Early


While Knox always loved playing sports, especially basketball, he also had an itch for coaching and helping others.


In just fourth grade, he began coaching basketball for first, second, and third graders at the YMCA, forcing his dad, Peter, and mom, Jean, to drag him there after school with his sister, Erica.


“Knox got the bug back then,” Knox’s dad said of Knox’s drive for coaching.


Knox couldn’t just play basketball—he had to coach. And he looked up to his dad for inspiration, wanting to be just like him.


They coached Erica's basketball team at the "Y," assisting Coach Bill Crowell - another source of inspiration.


“We [also] coached Erica’s little league team together when Knox was just a kid,” Knox’s dad said. “We've always done things together in sports.”


Nothing was better than tossing a baseball around with his dad—unless he was playing basketball, of course.


“My dad was a baseball guy,” Knox said. “That's why I also played baseball growing up. We would play catch, and he was my little league coach.”


Knox’s dad, however, had an issue - type 1 diabetes. He actually had a number of health issues. Yet nothing unmanageable. Dad could always manage.

Until he had a heart attack.

They rushed him to the hospital. And little Knox sat at home waiting to find out more news.

“I’m young, so I don’t really know what’s going on.”


Doctors tried hard to save the dad of this 4th grade boy.


And they succeeded.


But the Lendall’s live changed forever. No more catches with Dad. And Knox could not understand why.


“Dad’s feet started to go numb,” Knox said. “Body not working. That happened in fourth, fifth, sixth grade.”


Knox could not grasp his new reality of no longer playing or coaching with his dad.


“It was hard to see. Especially because he was my dad. That's who I always played with.”


Knox tried to turn to his passion - basketball. He wanted to play for St. John the Baptist Elementary School’s fifth grade team. And he still had this crazy notion he could coach too.


It just wasn’t the same without his dad there.


“The team was struggling.”

A bit of an understatement.

“We went 0–12,” Knox said.

Knox struggled personally, too.

Staying in basketball shape became impossible. That led to a new moniker: “the chubby kid.” This hurt, a lot. He then questioned if he had any future in the sport.

But he couldn’t quit. He couldn’t let his teammates or his dad down. And he knew he had to keep playing in order to keep that coaching dream alive. That had to be the path.

Knox worked hard on his game over the summer, and he thinned out.

“We finally had success in sixth grade,” Knox said.

Another understatement.

The team went 11–1.

“The future was bright.”

Then an ankle sprain hindered his quickness in seventh grade. And a broken finger kept Knox out for three months.

“I started dealing with some injuries. It was a taste of personal adversity. I was suffering.”

Quit?

Can’t do that. It would be the end of his dreams of coaching just like he used to with his dad. So Knox forced himself to see the bigger picture.

By eighth grade, the St. John the Baptist Elementary School team had been together for four years.

Knox felt great basketball-wise, and saw how the team's chemistry carried them throughout the season.

“It just all came together. . . . Coach Chris Cohen was a big mentor for me. Very positive coach. I aim to be like him . . .We became a family,” Knox said.

That family defeated Our Lady of the Assumption to become Northeast Central Catholic School champions. And ended up with a perfect 18-0 record.


Bumps in the Road

By freshman year, Knox’s dad could no longer work.

“We couldn’t financially support our house,” Knox said.

The Lendalls had to move into a small apartment. Knox soon found himself becoming isolated, distracted.

He needed to find a way to focus yet another time if he wanted to keep the dream alive - playing, coaching, being a positive presence for his teammates.

He tried hard to force himself to practice. Some good days, some not so good days.

Then more good days than bad days.

And then - the mere freshman made Bishop Fenwick’s varsity team as “swing” player with JV. Celebration time.

For one game. The team lost all the rest.

“I was getting checked at full court and had never seen pressure like that before,” Knox said. “I'd have a lot of turnovers and we would always lose. I remember one time I kicked the bench and I got a bruised toe. It was a pretty frustrating year.”

Knox remained positive. He knew his team had a bunch of winners. They were almost all the same guys he played with that won the championship the year before.

“I'm good at seeing the big picture,” Knox said.

So sophomore year comes. New year, new season, new start.

And he tore his hamstring. Isolated once more. Hope of becoming a coach like dad again started to slip.

As did Knox’s grades. And his weight, drastically. He lost 30 pounds.

“I just wasn’t taking care of myself,” Knox said.

But then junior year came . . .actually “But” is the wrong word. It implies something positive.

And then junior year came.

Money became even tighter and the small apartment was no more. The family had to move to an even less comfortable situation. And his mom parted with a possession or two.

“That scene always sticks with me,” Knox said. “She broke down in tears.”

He still had basketball. He still had the coaching dream.

Until he broke his ankle.

That’s it game over - game literally over. It had to be.

New Beginnings

“I tell people I’m like Charlie Brown,” Knox said. “That’s what we [Lendalls] do. My dad never gave up.”

His mom never gave up either. She had a goal of getting her doctorate in education. Nine long years of persevering and she has it.

Therefore, regardless of how hard high school had been, Knox saw the bigger picture.

“He has the ability to handle adversity and always battle it and come back out better,” Kevin Pham, Knox's best friend from high school said. “It speaks to his tremendous character and is what I respect about him the most.”


And more adversity came - his parents could no longer afford Bishop Fenwick. Yet Knox did not give up. He transferred to the local public school: Peabody High School.

He immediately went to go see the coaches—he wanted to restart his playing career

and put his coaching dream back on track.

Knox had confidence this could finally be his chance to show his talent while also continuing to learn.

Time to “come back out better.”

They told Knox - no.

After Knox explained his transfer situation they let him try out. And cut him.

No more high school ball for Knox.


“My parents were crying, because it was just a tough time for us. And we’re like ‘nothing’s going right. . . . I’m a senior with really good grades, and a good work ethic,” he said. And like I don't understand how you wouldn't have a spot for me. . . .And experiences like this, you’re like ‘I’m gonna make a difference one day as a coach.’”

Yes, somehow Knox still thought he could become a coach.

He needed a new plan, so he could play, so he could coach, so he could help others.

“I remember him being probably 16 or 17 sitting down at the table with us one night at dinner and saying ‘I'm gonna spend the rest of my life teaching kids how to play basketball the right way,’” Knox’s dad said. “And how to be good sports.”

Knox knew he wanted to be an overly positive coach. He wanted to become the coach he wished he always had growing up. He wanted everyone who played under him to feel welcomed.

How could he possibly coach if he couldn’t ever play?

Enter Ted Cottrell, former UMass player and founder of the AAU program, University Basketball Training. He also happened to be a family friend. Knox decided to try to convince Coach Cottrell to let him play.

Couldn’t do it. Cottrell had no openings.

What about starting another team? Cottrell already had multiple teams.

Could he just add one more team? Cottrell was already stretched too thin.

He agreed anyway.

Knox had a team. Well, he had a coach and one player. He then recruited 9 other guys to establish the first-ever University Basketball Training boys team.

And while the team wasn’t the most talented, it provided that needed step toward that goal of becoming a coach.

“[Coach Cottrell] always used to say that I was the coach on the floor,” Knox said.

During a tournament at the Mill Works, the team found themselves in a neck-and-neck game. With just six seconds left, they were down two points.

“The idea was to go to the basket, try to get fouled or tie it up,” Knox said. “But I lost the ball.”

The ball rolls away.

With one hand Knox manages to scoop it up.

He chucks a desperation, no-chance three.

For the win!!

“I just remember saying ‘I’m back!’ “I hadn’t experienced that joy playing basketball since I was in eighth grade.”

And even through the losses, Knox was reminded of the privilege it was to play. A particular message from one his teammates’ dads, Mr. Sullivan, after a tough loss, sticks with Knox to this day.

“Mr. Sullivan talked about how this game isn't life or death,” Knox said. “Enjoy it. Because it’s a gift to play. And you don't have much time left. So enjoy it while you're out there.”

Isn’t life or death.

Knox took that motto and applied to his next goal of playing college ball.

Yes, Knox, who had barely seen the court during his high school days wanted to try to find a college that would let him play.

“There’s a stat that's like 3.4% of high school players play in college,” Knox said. “And I'm going to be the kid that didn't play in high school to play in college.”

He understood that, big picture-wise, playing in college would help him in his quest to become a coach.

So, accompanied by the unwavering support of Coach Cottrell, he reached out to countless colleges - nothing.

He had his parents drive him to numerous showcases - nothing.

He trained harder than ever, got an invitation to play in a huge event in New Jersey., and simply dominated. Couldn’t miss from 3 - nothing.

He’d have to figure out how to become a coach without playing college ball.

But then - nothing turned to something.

He received an offer from coach Joe Wojtylok to play for Wells College in Upstate New York.

And the kid who had almost no high school career set off to play for an NCAA Division III team.



College Days


“I wanted to do it for my dad,” Knox said. “I didn’t really get to play in high school, in that type of atmosphere…the fact that I could do it at the college level was incredible.”


Knox entered those first practices courtesy of a ride on Cloud 9.


He remembers practice number five - clearly holding his own with college players.


Then pop.


It was his hamstring. A tear.


“I just kind of froze because it brings me mentally back to my really bad days,” Knox said. “It triggers a lot of memories.”


Freshman year gone.


Can Charlie Brown truly try again?


Knox sure gave it all he had. He did his best to fight back from his second major hamstring injury.


Preseason sessions of his sophomore season in 2019 arrived. Shortly after he stepped on the court his teammates could tell - he was back.

“Guys were like ‘oh, we forgot what Knox could do,’” Knox said. “So my confidence was all up and I was ready for a sophomore-year break out.”


The first official week of the season soon came.


And his hamstring left. The same one he had already severely torn twice.


“I remember calling my dad and I was like ‘this could be it,’” Knox said. “I can't work any harder. I can't work any smarter. . . . I can’t sprint.”


“I still did the rehab, but it started to get frustrating because coach wasn't letting me go on the road games,” Knox said. “He said it was for financial reasons…[but] it's been a year and a half and I haven't really, ever played, so I started getting pushed away from the team.”


What Knox loved even more than basketball itself was the team aspect. That’s part of why he hoped to eventually coach. To get pushed away from his teammates, like Zach D’Arpino and Joe Stoj, was heartbreaking.


So on December 1st, 2019, Knox informed Coach Wojtylko about his decision to step away from the team.

“I don't like to say quit,” Knox said with a chuckle. “I can say retired… Moved on.”


Coach’s Club


"Moving on” meant, of course, coaching.

Knox, however, realized he had almost no playing experience in high school. Combing that with almost no playing experience in college made for an almost non-existent coaching resume.

So “moving on” also meant literally moving on - to Northeastern University.

He transferred there, amidst the pandemic, to be closer to home.

One day, while shooting hoops at the recreation center, some players on Northeastern’s club team noticed Knox and were impressed. They asked if he would be interested in playing for the team.

Knox told them he could no longer play competitively.

A conversation ensued, and Northeastern’s men's club basketball president Itamar Zik, had a proposition for Knox: How would you like to coach?

Wait a minute. Please repeat that.

How would you like to coach?

Knox then passed out.

Ok, no he did not. But he did hop back on Cloud 9.

His seemingly ridiculous dream of becoming a coach became a reality.


Now Knox just had to prove everything he went through was worth it, and that he could truly make a positive impact on his team by helping each player succeed.

It was the first time he was legitimately coaching. To make matters even more intimidating, Knox’s players were his same age, some even older than him. And certainly taller (Knox stands at 5-foot-6.)

“We got some guys that are like, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8,” Knox said. “They have to look down at me and say ‘yes coach.’ And that was like my number one thing, like, these guys gotta respect me.”

Knox began to learn how to coach men. He studied each player's personality. He started to understand that every player takes feedback differently and is motivated differently.

He also had to make sure no player ever fell through the cracks.

Against UConn last season, 17 players ended up traveling with the team in an anomaly.

Big problem. How many of those 17 could possibly get playing time?

All of them.

“I believe in playing everyone,” Knox said.

And while Northeastern lost, Knox doesn't regret his decision by any means.

“That's his way of being fair,” Knox’s dad said. “And I think that is something special.”

Knox won’t win at any cost. He knows there's a line.


But he did so well that he now coaches Northeastern’s “A” and “B” club teams.

His “A” team went 14–2 in conference play and 20–7 overall last season, winning the NCBBA’s New England North conference. According to the latest College Basketball Times “Club Bracketology,” they should be no worse than a 2 seed at regionals this post-season.

“There is a saying in the coaching world that applies to all athletes: They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Kevin Pham said. “Knox encompasses that. He is always saying ‘be who you needed when you were younger.’”

Now, Knox has a lot on his plate: he’s the current men’s club basketball president at Northeastern, head coach of its A and B teams, a personal trainer with over 30 clients, and head coach of two Mass. Elite AAU teams, all while being a full-time student.

Knox, however, is doing better than ever with his busy schedule by doing what he loves.

Helping others within basketball.

“My grades have taken a hit,” he laughed. “But I still do well.”

It’s been a long journey for Knox. In the end, though, he knows it was, and still is, all worth it.

“Wouldn't change a thing,” Knox said. “It made me who I am.”


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