THE front lobby of the MTS Centre slowly filled up Monday as fans waited anxiously with their pens and jerseys for an autograph. But it wasn't a member of the Jets they were waiting for.
Instead, it was the NBA's Brandon Knight, a second-year point guard for the Detroit Pistons who touched down in Winnipeg late Sunday night.
The visit comes just months before Knight and the rest of the Detroit Pistons are scheduled to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves in preseason action Oct. 24 at the MTS Centre.
Knight hopes the visit will help promote both the pro game and the sport here in Winnipeg.
"It's very important to expand to other cities besides Toronto," said the 6-foot-3 Knight in an interview prior to meeting fans. "It's great to get the game of basketball to other places that haven't seen it firsthand. Just to have Winnipeg see it firsthand, they'll get to see what it's like. We'll love playing in front of a new type of crowd that loves sports in general and it will be a lot of fun."
Winnipeg is the second of two Canadian stops -- Montreal will host the other game Oct. 19 with the Toronto Raptors taking on the New York Knicks -- scheduled as part of the 2012 NBA Canada Series.
The schedule also marks the first time games will be played in Canada as part of the NBA's prestigious international pre-season lineup, a schedule that also includes games in China, Europe and Mexico.
As of Monday, close to 6,000 tickets had been sold.
"Just from what I've seen so far and what I've heard, this city loves sports and the game of basketball is growing. Football's already here, hockey is already here and both of those things have a great fan base. Basketball is another thing I believe can grow here as well."
Knight, a 20-year-old first-rounder (8th overall) to Detroit in 2011, was also in town to run a basketball camp for a group of at-risk youths and again for an additional 50 kids as part of the University of Manitoba's Mini-U Summer Camp.
"That's what I think inspires a lot of kids, just to have the opportunity to talk to someone at the pro level or someone that's looked up to," said Knight. "It makes a big difference in a lot of people's lives. I had the opportunity to speak to a lot of people that motivated me."
In his rookie season with Detroit last year, Knight averaged close to 13 points and four assists in 66 games. Prior to that Knight played one season with the University of Kentucky Wildcats, where he averaged 17 points and four rebounds in 38 contests -- en route to the school's first appearance in the NCAA Final Four since 1998.