Jackets' Knudsen proves her worth

Former Malta standout has had stellar career at MSU Billings
2014-02-25T22:55:00Z 2014-02-25T23:57:05Z Jackets' Knudsen proves her worthBy JOE KUSEK jkusek@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Kevin Woodin wasn’t sure if he heard good news or bad news.

In August of 2009, Woodin was at Tigers Stadium in Detroit. He and his son Garrett were watching the Tigers play the Minnesota Twins.

Woodin’s cellphone buzzed. It was from Bobbi Knudsen, calling from a family vacation in Whitefish.

Knudsen, of Malta, told Woodin she would be coming to Montana State Billings to play basketball.

“It was so loud, I couldn’t understand her,” remembered Woodin of that pivotal summer day. “It was very stressful. I didn’t know if she said was coming or if she said she was not coming to play for us.”

Woodin had already offered the Class B standout – who would lead Malta to the Class B state title in 2010 and win her third 800 meter title that same spring -- a scholarship after watching her play at an MSUB tournament. “I just loved the competitor she was,” he said.

Woodin saw Knudsen play again at the Big Sky State Games in July, making one dazzling play after another.

“I looked around to see if any other coaches were there to see them,” he said.

With Knudsen still on the phone, Woodin did what most coaches would when pursuing a prize recruit. He left his then 9-year-old son with 40,000 strangers while he found a place in the stadium for better cell phone reception.

“He was there when I got back,” said the coach with a chuckle.

Knudsen confirmed she wanted to be a Yellowjacket.

Fifteen minutes later, Woodin’s phone rang again.

“I accidentally called him,” Knudsen said. “It was, ‘Gosh, do I hang up on my new coach? What do I do?’

“I told him I changed my mind. I think I gave him a little heart attack.”

Woodin did not have to worry. Knudsen didn’t have many other offers on the table.

“Not one,” she said. “I didn’t think I was going to play college basketball.

“I knew MSUB was the place I wanted to play. I was so grateful for the opportunity.”

And Knudsen seized the opportunity.

Numbers everywhere

Nearing the final games of her career -- “I don’t even want to think about that,” said the senior point guard -- Knudsen is all over the MSUB record books.

Two hands are needed to count her career top 10 marks and her list of honors, including All-American the last two seasons, goes the length of the sleeve of her warm-up top. That doesn’t include academic honors for the biology major who is considering veterinary school or playing overseas if given the chance.

She's also all over the single-season top 10 lists.

“I don’t worry about accolades,” said the 5-foot-8 Knudsen, a savvy and analytical player. “I never really look at the stats. I just worry about the job I’ve done to help my team.

“My job is to get things done.”

The preseason Great Northwest Athletic Conference player of the year, she’s averaging 17.5 points and 6.2 assists a game this season, where she ranks sixth nationally. Knudsen is among the top five in five different GNAC categories, leading the conference in assists and minutes played.

By the end of the week, she could become the first Yellowjacket player in program history with more than 1,700 career points and 500 assists.

More importantly, Knudsen is the undisputed leader of a Yellowjacket team that leads the GNAC standings and needs just one win this week to clinch its first regular-season conference title.

“It’s been a great season,” she said.

Knudsen has scored in double figures in 22 of 26 games this season and the last 17 in a row, including a career-high 37 in a big home win against Western Washington.

However, her passing brings the biggest smile.

“Oh, that’s easy, the assists,” Knudsen said of her preference of pass or points. “That gets me the most jacked. It gets the whole team going. The assist gets more people involved.”

Knudsen leads MSUB in scoring, free throws made and attempts, assists, steals and minutes played. Defensively, she is asked to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player.

“She does everything well. Her skill set is tremendous,” said Woodin. “Bobbi has tremendous focus as an athlete.”

The uber-competitive Knudsen -- “Nobody wants to play me in anything,” she said -- has been part of 72 victories in four years, with more on the horizon.

Gym rat

At times, Knudsen makes it look easy.

There’s the coast-to-coast layup after a steal. And when the offense stalls, she’ll calmly drop in a 3-pointer.

But her signature shot is a devastating pull-up jumper in traffic.

“Sophomore year of college, I played against the boys at home in Malta during the summer,” Knudsen explained of the shot’s origin. “It was the only way I could get a shot off.”

The points are the results of hours in the gym. During the summer, Knudsen practices at the old Malta High School gym at 6 a.m., her father Jim providing the rebounding. Her mother Janice has been to every game, home and away, during her four-year career.

“I just have a passion for the game,” she said. “I remember I was so excited in fourth grade when dad hung a rim up at the house.”

During the season, Knudsen will spend at least an extra hour a day at Alterowitz Gymnasium, working on a variety of shots. “This year, free throws and 3-pointers,” she said.

“First and foremost, it’s her work ethic that stands out,” Woodin said. “She is in the gym constantly working on her game. And Bobbi watches a lot of film. She has tremendous focus as an athlete.”

There are days, Knudsen acknowledges, of taking a pass on the extra work.

“I do sometimes,” she admitted. “I’ll be sitting in class and be thinking I could go take a nap instead.

“But I don’t want to have any regrets in anything I do. I want to make sure I gave it all I could for my team.”

Knudsen’s also worked harder this season to become a more vocal leader.

Of course, there is another reason Knudsen became a Yellowjacket.

“I tell coach the only reason I came here was for the yellow,” she said with a big smile.

During games, she wears a yellow mouth guard, along with bright yellow shoes. She accents the outfit with yellow painted finger nails. “I do them every week,” Knudsen said.

“The mouth guard was easy. The orthodontist asked, ‘What color do you want?’ ”

And this season, she designed her own shoes on the Nike website. “I’m just representing,” Knudsen said with another laugh.

“This has worked out better than I ever thought it would. My teammates have been great and coach has meant so much to my career. He had confidence in me and let me grow as a player.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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