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Nathan Knight inks NBA two-way contract with Atlanta Hawks

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    Headed to the Hawks:  Nathan Knight is W&M's second all-time leading scorer. He averaged 20.7 points and 10.5 rebounds a game as a senior and was named the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year. He also was chosen the conference's Defensive Player of the Year, making him the second player in CAA history to win both in the same season.  Courtesy photo
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Sitting in his hotel room Thursday night, Nathan Knight finally had a chance to decompress. The previous 24 hours had been a blur, one that took him through two excruciating rounds of the NBA Draft before agreeing to terms with the Atlanta Hawks. 

Knight was not one of 60 players selected in the draft, but the Hawks wasted no time in offering him a two-way contact. He is expected to report to the College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta's G-League team, and could play in as many as 50 games with the NBA club. 

"It was an emotional rollercoaster (Thursday) night," Knight said. "Getting that call and that information was not a feeling that can be matched. That childhood dream was big for me. It was out-of-body experience getting that call.

"The past 24 hours have been just amazing. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I'm very excited. Atlanta's an excellent organization and I'm just looking forward to getting to work." 

Knight is the third W&M player in the last five years to sign an NBA contract. The previous two were Daniel Dixon, who signed a preseason deal with Boston in 2017, and Marcus Thornton, who signed a 10-day contract with Cleveland in 2018.

Knight had hoped to become only the second W&M player since 1985 to be drafted. He apparently came close — ESPN's Jonathan Givony, who called Knight one of the most skilled big men available, ranked him No. 11 among those who were not drafted. 

Knight was invited to the NBA Combine, but the pandemic restricted the number of individual workouts he could attend. Still, with what is considered a 16th or 17th roster spot with the Hawks, Knight is in a position to prove himself.

"The draft is just the start," W&M coach Dane Fischer said. "The most important thing is that he was able to give himself an opportunity to go to a training camp and sign with the team and be part of a roster. 

"He's thrilled. He called me about 1 in the morning after the draft and told me the news."

It happened quickly. The final pick of the draft was announced at 12:13 a.m. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted Knight signing with the Hawks 18 minutes later.

Knight reportedly will be paid $449,155 for the 2020-21 season. He is expected to begin working out with the team as soon as he takes and passes his COVID test, which was scheduled for Friday morning.

Atlanta has made the center position a priority by acquiring 6-foot-10 Clint Capela in a trade from Houston and selecting 6-9 Onyeka Okongwu from USC as the sixth overall pick of the draft. The Hawks' current roster has five players who are listed as either power forwards or centers.

At 6-10 and 235 pounds, Knight has the size and athleticism to play either spot.

"I pride myself on my versatility and my efficiency, and I feel like I can do a bunch of things for the organization," he said. "What I do really depends on what they need from me.

"If they need me to be a conventional center, I can do that to the best of my ability. If they need me to do more or something else, I'm more than willing to do that."

Knight is W&M's second all-time leading scorer with 2,141 points, only 37 points behind Thornton (2012-15). He is No. 3 on the career rebounding list with 964 and is second in blocked shots with 221. 

Knight averaged 20.7 points and 10.5 rebounds a game as a senior and was named the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year. He also was chosen the conference's Defensive Player of the Year, making him the second player in CAA history to win both in the same season.

Knight toyed with the idea of entering the NBA Draft after his junior season. He worked out with a handful of teams, one of which was Atlanta.

"I had some amazing conversations with them, and I think I showed myself well," he said. "I'm extremely thankful for them taking a chance on me. They're giving me an opportunity to come here and do everything I can to help the organization get better.

"The front office has a lot of brilliant minds up there. They know exactly what they're doing. I'm very fond of the organization and the players they have, the style of play, the coaches. It's all very appealing to me. I'm ready to get to work. I wish I could work out right now." 

The last few days have zoomed by for Knight. Things won't be slowing down anytime soon. 

"Overwhelmed? Yes. Nervous? Yes," he said. "But I'm ready. I've put in so much work. I've spent the last seven, eight months getting ready for this moment and I'm extremely confident in the work I've put in.

"It's something I've never done before. But it's something I've been preparing for my whole life."