Knies signs to play basketball at Bellarmine

Jasper's Claire Knies signed to continue her basketball career at Bellarmine University in Louisville Thursday. From left, mother Jennifer, Claire Knies, sister Olivia and father Jay. Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald


JASPER — Claire Knies might not have signed her letter of intent to play basketball at Bellarmine University — or anywhere, for that matter — on Thursday if she had her way in fourth grade.

The Jasper senior did not like the sport at that time when she was a student at Ireland Elementary. She didn’t feel like she was the best player. But her parents, Jay and Jennifer, wanted her to play on. So, too, did Ireland basketball coach Tom Nottingham. Knies knew she'd bought in when she got home from the first day of basketball practice in fourth grade.

“I told my parents, I was like, ‘Yep, I’m playing,’” Knies said. “‘I love it.’ Ever since then, I’ve wanted to play.”

An emotional Knies thanked her former coach when she spoke at the podium in Jasper’s community room on Thursday. She wiped away a tear from her eye, with family and teammates looking on.

“He’s the reason I’m here today, and I thank you so much,” she said, her voice cracking with Nottingham in attendance.

Knies could not believe there was one point in her life when she did not like basketball. But she has loved it from that point on. She loves that there’s always something new to learn about the game. She said she’s been serious about wanting to play basketball in college since she was in fifth grade. Committing to play for the Knights did not come on a whim, either.

Jay Knies said his daughter had her sights set on Bellarmine since she was in eighth grade. He said Claire also received offers from the University of Evansville and Purdue University Fort Wayne, both NCAA Division I programs. Jay added she received offers from NCAA Division II teams, but in the end, she landed where she set her sights the whole time. The Knights will switch from a Division II to a Division I team when Claire is a freshman.

He is proudest of how much his daughter wanted it and made her own path to achieve it.

“She called college coaches on her own,” Jay said. “There were many nights where I could hear her talking in her bedroom on her cell phone to a college coach, and she would talk to several of them 45 minutes to an hour each night.”

Knies said the main factor in her decision was the winning tradition Bellarmine has. The Knights have not had a losing record since the 2013-14 season. She believes she can help them as they transition into the Athletic Sun Conference. Knies is excited, but also nervous, to be a Division I athlete. She thinks she’ll be fine, though, with the recruiting class that she’s a part of.

She has been a four-year starter for the Wildcats. Knies made the Big Eight all-conference team in each of her first three years in high school. She also has won Jasper’s defensive award for each of the past two seasons. Jasper coach Jessica Mehringer, herself a former college coach, told the crowd on Thursday that she has no doubt Knies will be successful at the collegiate level.

Mehringer told The Herald after the signing that Knies has been a joy to coach because she brings it every single day. The coach said Knies is dedicated with an infectious work ethic, with her teammates feeding off of her energy.

“Claire is a college player playing high school basketball right now,” Mehringer said.

Mehringer, Knies and the rest of the Wildcats will try to make a deeper postseason run this year before Knies heads off to play basketball in Louisville. Jasper has not been able to get past the sectional opener in each of the past four years, but Knies said practices are more intense than they have been in the past.

“I feel like it’s already been different this year,” Knies said.

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