The SoCal basketball community, and UCLA basketball in particular, is reeling after news broke that former Bruins and L.A. Westchester standout Billy Knight was found dead in Phoenix on Sunday morning from an apparent suicide. The news of Knight’s plight hit social media 24 hours later and came four days after former UCLA and Sylmar High all-stater Tyler Honeycutt passed away from self-inflicted gunshot wounds following a standoff with police.
Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please get help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
On July 8, former UCLA and pro basketball player Billy Knight posted a disturbing youtube video where he talked about feelings of loneliness, depression and apologized to family members for some of his previous actions. That evening, a body was found at approximately 2:45 am by the Phoenix Fire Department on a city roadway and it was later confirmed by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner to be the former L.A. Westchester standout.
On Sunday evening at social events surrounding the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, word of the video surfaced and a former UCLA basketball player told members of his dinner party that, “Billy (Knight) may be in some trouble.” Over the next 24 hours, members of the UCLA and SoCal basketball community frantically tried to reach out to Knight after it was figured out he was somewhere in the Phoenix area, but by then he apparently was already gone.
Knight was 39 years old.
News of his death hit the SoCal basketball community hard on Tuesday morning, especially in light of the unfortunate situation involving Tyler Honeycutt. The 27-year old Honeycutt, another former UCLA basketball player and a 2007-08 second team Cal-Hi Sports all-state player at Sylmar, reportedly fatally shot himself during a standoff with police last Friday in Sherman Oaks.
We got to know Knight over the years at various high school and grassroots basketball events. We also had a lasting connection to Knight, as he was the first photo shoot subject for our longtime photographer Scott Kurtz, who has gone on to shoot countless athletes all over the country for numerous Student Sports Magazine cover shots, including that of former prep-to-pro Tyson Chandler of Compton Dominguez, and still shoots high school athletes. It was something we occasionally ribbed Knight about. Knight was previously a coach for the West Coast Elite travel ball club and recently a personal trainer in Phoenix.
In Tuesday conversations with multiple former Cal-Hi Sports all-state players who knew Knight well, some of the focus was on the sometimes tough transition from pro basketball player (Knight played in the D-League and in France and Japan after college) to post-playing career, especially in a city such as Los Angeles where the cost of living is extremely high, even for college graduates. There was talk of how social media also plays a role in the pressure many former athletes feel to be successful financially or be perceived to be successful.
There is zero evidence either of those two factors played a role in Knight’s demise, but they have definitely been a topic of conversation in the basketball community in the light of recent deaths/suicides and because of an increased awareness of mental health issues in sports. Another issue mentioned by ex-SoCal athletes on Tuesday in light of Knight’s passing was athletes’ reluctance to step forward and get the professional help they need. In his youtube post, Knight shed light on that issue, stating, “don’t think you can battle mental illness on your own…it’s not really possible.”
In recent years, our conversations with Knight were similar in nature to the ones others in the basketball community would have; he was intelligent, always well-spoken, and pleasant in nature. Digging deeper, however, reveals a bit more about the mental makeup during his post-playing career and his thoughts about the current state of the game. In our recent conversations with Knight, he was very unimpressed with the current state of the grassroots game. He was turned off by the constant self-promotion, endless highlight videos and social media posts that anoints players before they actually accomplished something worthy of praise. “They just don’t know and they’ll see when they get older and real life hits them,” Knight said. The final time adidas Nations was held in Southern California, Knight also mentioned his feelings of isolation to former teammates, but the conversation was casual in nature and nothing to be overly alarmed about because he was so pleasant and still flashing that signature smile.
In his senior season at Westchester, the 6-foot-5 Knight led the Comets to 25-7 mark and a final No. 11 state ranking by averaging over 21 ppg and 10 rpg. Knight helped Westchester advance to the L.A. City Section 4A final, where it lost to eventual CIF D1 state champ L.A. Crenshaw, 87-70, after the Comets advanced to the section semifinals in his junior campaign. A two-time all-L.A. City choice, Knight was a fourth five all-state selection by Cal-Hi Sports after his senior season. On the travel ball circuit, the sweet-shooting lefty played for a Pump N Run team coached by the late Bob Gottlieb that included Long Beach Poly’s Mike McDonald and fellow all-staters Jamahl Mosley (Rancho Buena Vista) and Ruben Douglas (Bell-Jeff, Burbank).
After graduating from Westchester, Knight lettered four seasons at UCLA (1998-2002), including his senior season when he started all 33 games and averaged 14.1 ppg., and graduated from the university.
Knight (whose late father went by Bill) is survived by his mother Peggy and his younger brother Eric, who also played basketball for Ed Azzam at Westchester.