Meet dunkin' Danrad Knowles, Houston's Mr. Chicken

Let’s clear this up right away, as it is always the first thing Houston senior forward Danrad Knowles is asked: He is not – repeat, not – related to Beyonce.

Doesn’t stop people from asking, though.

“I get that a lot,” he said. “We go to away games, I get that. Home games. People ask me on Twitter sometimes. Even when I’m walking around campus they ask me.”

So who is he, exactly? He is a guy that goes by the nickname “Chicken” — shortened to “Chick’n” on his Facebook page, which lists 2,477 friends — a moniker bestowed upon him by a camp coach back in his native country, the Bahamas, as he was growing into his current wiry dimensions (6-10, 200 pounds).

And he is the Cougars’ X-factor, as coach Kelvin Sampson has told the Houston Chronicle. He is not the team’s biggest scorer; he averages 11.2 points per game heading into a game against Liberty Thursday on ASN. Knowles is third, behind redshirt junior guard Rob Gray (20.4) and senior guard Damyean Dotson (14.9).

Nor is Knowles the biggest rebounder; his 4.1 norm is also third amongst the Cougars, behind Dotson (6.9) and redshirt junior forward Devin Davis (6.5).

But when he plays well, the Cougars play well. He has scored in double figures in all but two of Houston’s eight victories, including a season-high 25-point output against Rhode Island on Dec. 10. In the Cougars’ losses to LSU and Arkansas, he has a combined five points and six boards.

“There’s some areas we’ve got to improve in, some areas I’ve got to improve in,” he said. “Just defensive rebounding, because I really haven’t been doing a good job rebounding lately. That’s the main area right there.”

Time is growing short for him, though. And he’s acutely aware of that.

“Just trying to do something good after my four years,” he said. “I’m trying to leave a positive vibe, you know?”

On that score he seems to have succeeded, in many different ways. Not only was he part of a team that went 21-9 and reached the NIT last year – Sampson’s second on the job – but Knowles has made an impression on the student body as a whole.

In August a web site called Cooglife.com listed him as one of the university’s 27 most influential student leaders, adding that he is “one of the warmest and most welcoming personalities on campus” and that despite his notoriety as an athlete he has “maintained his humble and hard-working mentality.”

“I did not see that,” he said. “Dang, that’s big time.”

But not surprising.

“People just come up to me randomly and start talking, so I just talk back,” he said. “I just try to have a conversation, you know? It doesn’t take long. They’ll be like, ‘Hey, do you know Chicken?’ I’ll be like, ‘That’s me.’ And they start laughing. I don’t have a problem with it. It’s kind of funny. It’s basically everywhere I go, people will be surprised at how tall I am: ‘Wow, you’re tall.’ They start having a conversation. It’s everywhere.”

He learned the game in the Bahamas, then in his mid-teens came to Houston with his older brother Dancel.

When asked where they lived, Danrad chuckled and said, “I stayed a lot of places, honestly.”

When asked how they got by, he said, “Our parents sent us money, you know? We lived fine.”

Overall, the transition was an interesting one.

“Coming from the islands to Texas, you’re thinking of Texas as a desert, cactus, cowboys,” he said. “But it was a lot different. It took a while to adjust.”

That was true on the court as well. His last two years of high school he played for the Homeschool Christian Youth Association (HCYA), a nonprofit service organization tailored for home school families and students in the Houston area. Teaming with Justin Jackson, now at North Carolina, Knowles helped deliver a national championship in 2011-12 while winning the Maravich Award, presented each year to the top homeschool player.

He spent the following year at the University of Houston-Downtown, unable to play or practice while some eligibility questions were rectified, then emerged as a top reserve under then-coach James Dickey in 2013-14.

Knowles’ role was ever-changing in Sampson’s first two years on the job – he was a starter in ’14-15 and more often than not a sub last season – but he has been a regular in eight of 10 games this season, and forever the X-factor, trying to do all that is asked of him.

All while answering one particular question that always seems to be asked of him.

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