Bryan Knapp, 22, loves playing basketball and is pretty good at it, too. The graduate of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and Cornell University has returned to Washington to play one last year of Division 1 basketball at George Washington University as he pursues a Master of Science degree in sports management.
Can you speak a little bit about your basketball journey?
JDS was a great basketball experience. It was three years of doing well but never making it to the championship, and then my senior year ultimately winning it. It was a great way to cap off four years with my best friends, a coach that I really admired and at a school that I really liked.
Likewise with Cornell, it was a great experience. It was very frustrating to lose last year due to COVID. It’s different when you’re representing a high school versus a university. On to GW. I love the players and I love the coaches. I mean, the season just started but it’s a great program and a great culture. This is my last year able to play, so after this year, I will just be a normal student for the first time since maybe kindergarten.
When did basketball become a passion for you that you wanted to pursue further?
I joined an AAU [nationwide competitive travel basketball league] team in high school and the thought of playing collegiately was never something I really thought about. As we got better, we started going to bigger tournaments and showcases and it became apparent that myself and my teammates had the potential to play in college. It was a gradual thing. It wasn’t like I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to play college basketball. You’re working out, you’re playing so much so often and so hard every day. At a certain point I asked myself: I’m doing all of this, what’s the end goal or next step of the journey. I talked to people in my family and my coaches and once I got the goal, I motivated and worked toward it.
What are you studying academically?
I’m studying sports management, which has always been a passion of mine. It’s very different from studying political science, which I did at Cornell, but I’ve always wanted to explore it a little more. I’ve really enjoyed it so far. We’re in a city, so there’s a lot of cool opportunities down the road in terms of jobs and internships and whatnot. It’s a two-year program, so I’ll finish in spring 2023.
Why come back to GW for one last season?
For one thing, I wanted to be home and near my family. I wanted to be near friends from high school that I haven’t seen for a long time. That was definitely a driving factor. The other thing was that I wanted a different experience. Cornell is in Ithaca, which is very rural and you’re very confined to the campus, in a bubble. Here it’s more of a city structure. In a way I’m getting a holistic college experience when you take the two together. GW is a great school academically and basketball-wise.
How has your experience differed as one of few Jews in Division I basketball?
There definitely aren’t many. I’m the only one on this team and there was one other at Cornell. It’s not something that I’m asked about that frequently, but it’s something everyone knows. For example, the other day we were putting in food orders for a meal and a teammate made sure that my meal didn’t have pork in it. I’m comfortable talking about my Judaism and expressing it and my teammates are willing to help me out with my religious beliefs, which I appreciate. It’s difficult sometimes.
Recently one of the Torahs at a fraternity on campus was desecrated and that’s something that hurt me personally, but I know that my teammates didn’t feel it because they’re not involved in Jewish circles. They probably didn’t even know that it happened. There are things that weigh on me that might not on them and that can be challenging sometimes. But it’s also something I’m proud of.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I don’t have plans yet. I just want to get through this year and I’m focused on school and sports. I do foresee that I won’t stop playing basketball anytime soon. If my body allows me to, I would love to continue basketball because I enjoy the people it’s allowed me to meet and the places it’s taken me.
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