From her seat on the Colorado bench this season, Aubrey Knight will sometimes yell at her teammates to rebound the ball or go to the basket.
“Being that little voice in the back of their head,” she says with a smile. “It’s me kind of just telling them little whispers in their ears to hopefully ignite them to want to go and rebound and do those extra little things.”
During Knight’s career with the CU women’s basketball team, she was known for doing those extra little things. There have been many times this season that the Buffaloes could have used the rebounding, energy and leadership that she provided.
Knight’s final season with the Buffs hasn’t been ideal, but it is at least ending where she hoped it would — in the NCAA Tournament. The Buffs (22-8) will face Creighton (20-9) in the first round of the tournament on Friday at 11:30 a.m. in Iowa City, Iowa (TV: ESPNews).
A guard from Ventura, Calif., Knight returned for a fifth season to help the Buffs make an NCAA Tournament run, but she suffered a torn labrum in her left shoulder in October. It was her third major shoulder injury — the first two being on the right — and she chose to medically retire.
“It wasn’t a bad tear, so there was a discussion of if I could play on it or not, but discussing with the surgeons and knowing my history, it wasn’t a matter of if it was going to come out again; it was when it was going to come out again,” said Knight, who will graduate with a master’s degree in May.
Knight had already put her body through the wringer during her time at CU and knew it was best to hang it up and focus on her long-term health.
“I didn’t want to have to come back and play tentatively,” she said.
That was never Knight’s style. From the moment she arrived in 2017, Knight was a high-energy player for the Buffs. She played 82 games, 34 of them as a starter, while averaging 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds. If head coach JR Payne needed her to score one game, Knight could do it. If Payne needed her to rack up rebounds, Knight could do that, too.
Being unable to contribute on the court this season has been the most difficult part of the injury.
“That has definitely been hard, but I know this team has picked up the slack and there’s a lot of people that have stepped up in those situations,” Knight said.
Although she isn’t on this year’s stat sheet, Knight has had an impact on CU’s best season in nearly a decade.
Knight and fifth-year senior Mya Hollingshed came in together in 2017 and helped to set the foundation upon which this team is built.
“It’s been awesome to be able to share those experiences, especially with Mya,” Knight said. “Mya and I came in together, so when we came here, it was a different program than it is now. To see what we were able to do with this program and now be able to make it to March Madness — what we’ve been trying to achieve for the last five years, it’s really awesome that I still get to be a part of it.”
This year, Knight has continued to bring her smile, positivity and leadership to practices and the home games and helped behind the scenes. She also traveled with the team to the Pac-12 Tournament earlier this month and will be in Iowa City for the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m really excited for that to say that I went (to the tournament) and was part of the reason that we’re here in the first place,” she said. “Even though it’s a little bit of a different situation, but still being able to go and experience that with all the upperclassmen and the younger players to show, ‘This is what we did, so this is the expectation of what we need to see moving forward.’”
Knight always knew the day would come that she would transition away from basketball. That day came sooner than expected, but she is now healthy and has accepted the finality of her collegiate career.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment, and definitely an identity crisis a little bit of trying to figure out who I am outside of sports,” she said. “I’ve been able to have that time and kind of been able to realize that sports aren’t everything. I got my time here, I got to play three full seasons, so it’s better than some people can say. I’ll look back on this and know the adversity and everything that I had gone through and that’ll help me in life moving forward, to give my kids advice, younger players advice and stuff like that.
“It’s been good to be able to still be involved and still be around the team and see the success that we’ve had this year. I’m glad that I’m here for that. It’s obviously not how I wanted it to be, but I’m so glad that I get to be around everyone and still be a part of the team, just in a different way.”