At a smaller Division I school like Marist College, it’s not difficult to put a name to the face of the many athletes competing for the school. After walking around campus for four years with their bright red backpacks and constant Marist Athletics apparel, these athletes have established themselves as just that — athletes. As they round the corner to graduation, the question remains: who are they outside of their sport?
The following story is a part of Center Field’s 19 for ‘19: Stories of the Senior Class series.
On January 8, 2018, Marist guard David Knudsen electrified the set of SportsCenter at Night. The then junior guard from Copenhagen had two of the biggest names in sports television jumping out of their seats in a popular segment called Bad Beats. The segment highlights games that are not necessarily close, but ones that barely make or miss the betting line.
Hosts Scott Van Pelt and “Stanford” Steve Coughlin recapped a game that happened a week earlier, on January 2, between the Marist Red Foxes and Manhattan Jaspers. The Jaspers were favored to win the game by four points, and Van Pelt opened the highlight by saying, “This is the kind of bad beat that makes you rethink everything.”
After Manhattan miraculously forced overtime, the Jaspers exploded on offense and put the game out of reach by going up by seven points with just 34 seconds left. Marist did not have a chance to win the game, but they could at least beat the spread by losing by four points or less.
“You had your chance to win it, but here comes the David Knudsen portion of the highlight,” said Van Pelt. With possession of the ball and in need of three points to cover, the junior fired up a shot from the left wing. “Knudsen!” yelled Coughlin as the shot rattled around the rim. It bounced out, but the Red Foxes collected the offensive rebound and Coughlin screamed, “Give it back to him!” The ball somehow found its way back to the sharpshooter. “Knudsen!” Coughlin shouted even louder this time, but the shot bounced out once more. Marist pulled down the rebound again.
“What is going on?” asked Van Pelt in befuddled amusement as a flurry of chaotic shots followed. Marist could not make a shot but kept getting the offensive rebounds as time ticked away. Finally, the ball found Knudsen in the exact same spot for his third try. “Knudsen!” Coughlin yelled so loud his voice cracked. Van Pelt was in a fit of laughter. The shot was a perfect swish.
With 7.8 seconds left, Marist was about to cover, but they fouled right after Manhattan inbounded the ball. After two made free-throws, the Jaspers led by six. The Danish junior was not finished though, as he caught the inbound pass near midcourt and dribbled to the top of the key.
In unison, Van Pelt and Coughlin shouted, “Knudsen!” as he lined up an off-balance three-pointer.
“Boom!” they both cried out as the shot hit the back of the net with seconds remaining. The hosts were hysterical. The two teams were only separated by three-points. Anyone who had bet on Marist to cover the spread was saved, right? Wrong. Marist fouled the Jaspers again with less than a second to go and lost by five points. Anyone with money on Marist was out of luck.
“Marist is having a tough year,” said Coughlin as he and Van Pelt tried to catch their breath.
The team was in the midst of it’s worst season since 2011 and would finish with just six wins. Despite the rough year, Knudsen took major strides forward in his game on both the offensive and defensive ends.
“It was tough coming from Denmark,” said Knudsen. “I always wanted to come to the States and go to college and play Division I basketball, and I thought Marist was the right place to grow.”
After only starting six games the previous year, he started all 30 contests for the Red Foxes and averaged a career-high 10.8 points per game on 43.5% shooting and 36.9% from three-point range. He also led the team in steals and had the most blocks out of any of the guards. To top it all off, he earned a spot on the MAAC All-Academic team.
Though the bright-spots felt few and far between for Marist in the 2017-2018 season, Knudsen went for a career high 28 points in that loss to Manhattan and was the subject of his own Sportscenter segment the following night.
“It was pretty funny. I remember after that game, like I don’t really use Twitter. We don’t really use Twitter in Europe,” said Knudsen. “But people were reaching out and saying that these famous people were tweeting about me. Scott Van Pelt has like a million followers. It was pretty fun to be in the middle of all that.”
On Wednesday, January 9th, a highlight real of Knudsen’s best plays of the season ran while the screams of Van Pelt and Coughlin played in the background opening up Sportscenter. Then, Van Pelt appeared on camera with a giant picture of Knudsen and the flag of Denmark behind the host.
“All right, well we really enjoyed last night’s Bad Beats and many of you did as well,” opened Van Pelt. “Marist has been struggling this year. Steve [Coughlin] pointed out that the Red Foxes were in our neck of the woods Wednesday to take on Quinnipiac which means we have your daily dose of Knudsen.”
“When there was the flag up there and picture of me and they were showing clips of me, it was just something I never thought would have happened, but I’ve had a lot of attention on SportsCenter which is pretty funny,” said Knudsen.
As the highlight started, Marist guard Brian Parker caught an inbound pass and bolted up the court. The Red Foxes trailed Quinnipiac 79-80 with five seconds remaining in overtime. When Parker crossed mid-court, Coughlin once again hollered, “Give it to Knudsen!” who sat waiting on the right wing this time. Parker found him with just a second left.
“There he is!” screamed Van Pelt in giddy anticipation as Knudsen hoisted the potential game winner. The buzzer sounded and the ball clanked off the front of the rim and out. Marist was handed it’s third straight loss of less than five points, and both hosts were audibly disappointed.
The camera shot then returned to Van Pelt and Coughlin in their ESPN studio and Van Pelt said, “Here’s what Marist needs to know, better days are coming and when they arrive, we will be here to document them with Knudsen and everyone else.”
“He ain’t lying,” assured Coughlin. Marist finished with a 6-25 overall record and parted ways with Head Coach Mike Maker after the season. A month later, the Marist Athletics Department announced that former St. Peter’s coach John Dunne would take over as head coach.
The 2018-2019 season saw a considerable uptick in performance for the Red Foxes. The team doubled its win total to 12 and was the victors of the Belfast Classic to give the program it’s first trophy in 31 years. It was still an overall losing record and a first round exit from the MAAC tournament, but an aura of optimism hovered over the program in a way that had been lacking the past few years.
“[Coach Dunne] is more defensive minded,” said Knudsen. “He got us to work harder on defense. He had a different philosophy [than Maker] and it worked better for us.”
Knudsen averaged two points less per game in his senior year, but it was a result of different play style rather than a drop in performance. His three point field goal percentage and free throw percentages were both up while his field goal percentage remained the same. He was also amongst the team leaders in steals and fewest turnovers.
With graduation around the corner, Knudsen looks forward to getting his degree and continuing to play basketball. Currently, his sights are set overseas for the chance to play professionally. Though he’d love to play in Spain, he’s prepared to travel wherever there is an opportunity. On April 18, he announced on his Instagram account that he signed with the sports management agency Stayline Sports for representation.
During the second Marist segment in as many nights, Scott Van Pelt said, “We’re not supposed to root in this business, but there was a whole room of people rooting for Marist.” While the circumstances behind the support were not exactly ideal at the time, the groundwork for a great underdog story was laid out.
Van Pelt and Coughlin promised to be there to document it when better days came around for the Red Foxes, and this most recent season was a step in the right direction. Perhaps next year, the two sports personalities will be screaming about a deep run in the MAAC tournament or a buzzer-beating win instead of a game that played jump-rope with the betting line.
Either way, Knudsen has made a couple of major fans at ESPN, and Marist Men’s Basketball is in a much better place this year than it was last year.
Just remember, when in doubt: “Get it to KNUDSEN!”
Edited by Center Field Editorial Team.
Header image by Kristin Flanigan. Photos courtesy of SportsCenter.