Minnesota honors pair in hometown

The former Hopkins teammates are now seniors at Minnesota, and both are crucial to team success.

by Nick Gerhardt

Senior Minnesota women’s basketball players Jordan Barnes and Leslie Knight took separate paths after graduating from Hopkins High School.

Gophers coach Pam Borton swiped Knight up right out of high school and brought her into the program, which she’d brought to the NCAA Final Four just one season prior. Barnes headed to South Carolina to play for Winthrop University.

But the two enter their senior seasons united as Gophers, and on Aug. 16 they will return to their hometown with their collegiate team to celebrate their careers and build excitement for the upcoming season.

The duo enjoyed tremendous success at Hopkins, where they played to a Minnesota Class AAAA third place finish in 2003. The next year Knight led the Royals to a state title while also winning the Minnesota Associated Press Player of the Year award.

Although they received a lot of recognition in high school, the shift to playing Big Ten basketball proved a difficult and trying time. They suddenly found themselves waiting for their turn to contribute on talent-laden squads.

“It was definitely hard to come to college and not play,” Knight said. “Since I was Ms. Basketball, I felt like I was letting people down, but in the Big Ten you’re just another fish in the sea.”

Knight, a forward, played in only 15 games as a freshman and averaged 2.9 minutes a game. But she learned more about the game from watching All-American center Janel McCarville.

“I knew I wasn’t going to play so it became important that I learn from the other players,” Knight said. “Watching Janel and all her different moves, like her no-look passes and post moves, I learned a lot.”

Knight knew eventually she would have an opportunity to contribute, and she bided her time in the gym working on her shot to improve her game.

“You never know when your time is going to come, so you just have to prepare,” Knight said.

Even though she did not see much playing time, her family offered unwavering support through the tough times.

“My parents came to every game, home and away, even if I wasn’t playing,” Knight said. “My brothers made me realize how fortunate I am to play in the Big Ten and think about all the priceless moments I get to enjoy.”

And last season, when her time came, she ran with the opportunity. She started all 33 games, averaging 8.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, in a breakout season that made the pain of not playing subside. The experience left her humble.

“I never took for granted each start,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I went from not playing a second in a game to starting.”

Jordan Barnes transferred to Minnesota two years ago after spending a semester at Winthrop.

“I came in with no expectations; I just wanted an opportunity to play,” Barnes said.

Barnes joined the team as a walk-on and slowly made her way from the end of the bench to the court.

When senior guard Kelly Roysland suffered an injury last season, Barnes stepped in and started three of the four games

Roysland missed. She filled in capably, as she averaged 7.3 points per game during that span.

“Jordan exemplifies the Gopher mentality with her toughness,” coach Pam Borton said.

Last season Barnes played in 32 of the 33 games but only averaged 12.4 minutes a game.

“Going back to the ‘U’ has been awesome,” Barnes said. “And it’s been a lot of fun to play with Leslie again.”

With her improved play last season, the Gophers expect Barnes to make a bigger contribution this season, along with the consistency Knight provided to help guide them to a successful season.

“I think one word stands out for both of them,” Borton said, “and that’s ‘perseverance.’ “