There has been a serious test of wills taking place this week in Madrid, the capital of a country where more than two-thirds of the population still identifies as Catholic.

The coronavirus started showing its potential for ferocity in early March in Spain, and by March 14, Madrid was put into lockdown. That continues and has left churches closed on this, Holy Week in the Catholic Church — seven days with more churchgoing than any other for traditional Catholics.

And as the virus delivers a much higher rate of fatalities to older citizens, so is the rate of devotion among these high-risk generations.

“There was a church here this week that defied the order to stay closed and held Mass,” Leslie Knight said. “The story is that the church was filled, even though everyone there was cited and would be leveled a sizable fine.”

Knight, Lutheran by Minnesota upbringing, has spent the last 11 years playing basketball and living in Spain — much more time than needed to absorb what Holy Week means in that country.

“Today, Good Friday, especially south of here, there would be dramatic public processions of the Crucifixion,” Knight said. “And Easter Sunday, all over Madrid there would be processions. Not seeing those festive displays of Easter this Sunday … that will be very different.”

Knight had a four-season basketball career for the Gophers that took her from sitting on the bench for two seasons to second-team All-Big Ten as a senior in 2007-08. Consider: 19 games and 15 points as a freshman and sophomore, 65 consecutive starts and 709 points as a junior and senior.

“Leslie kept improving, obviously, but she also was moved positionally to where she could be effective,” said Kelly Curry, née Roysland as a Gophers basketball standout. “She had been practicing with the guard group previously, and that wasn’t her.”

Knight’s senior season earned the 6-foot-1 forward a chance to play in a Swiss pro league. Then, for the 2009-10 season, she signed with a Division 2 pro team in Spain, and she has played there since: Four seasons in Division 2, six seasons in Division 1 and this past, abbreviated season with a Division 2 team in Madrid.

“It was exciting to sign with a team in Spain that first year, because I had minored in Spanish at the university,” Knight said. “I saw it as a great chance to learn the culture and improve my Spanish.”

She didn’t see Spain becoming home, which is what it is now. She married Juan Manuel Gonzalez in a legal ceremony in 2017 and they have an apartment in Madrid’s La Latina district, not far from the Manzanares River.

Knight’s Madrid team was enjoying an excellent season through March 7; then came a shutdown of the schedule, followed quickly by a shutdown of the city.

What was the virus situation on Good Friday? “We’re told it’s slightly better, but we still had over 600 new dead in Spain yesterday,” she said.

Her husband, called “Juanma,” is in the middle of it, as a police officer in the huge suburb of Las Rozas.

“Juanma gets home every night around 11, takes a shower, and then we have dinner,” Knight said. “That’s late even in Madrid, where people go out for dinner at 10 at night.

“Now, there’s no one out. I don’t think they are using the sirens on the ambulances when they pick up people who have gotten sick or have died. That would be too haunting in an empty city.”

Curry and Knight were roommates for three seasons at Minnesota. Leslie was the maid of honor when Kelly married the noted basketball referee Eric Curry. Kelly was the maid of honor when Leslie and Juanma had a full wedding ceremony in the summer of 2018 with Knight’s family and friends in the Twin Cities.

Kelly is now an assistant to Lindsay Whalen with the Gophers. She’s not overly surprised that her close friend Knight made a pro career and a life in a foreign land.

“Leslie earned the opportunity to keep playing with her success as a senior,” Curry said. “She also was very interested in seeking new cultures, meeting new people.”

One new person Knight has met through modern communications is new baby Hayes, the Currys’ second son. “FaceTime, Zoom, we talk almost every day,” Kelly Curry said.

Knight’s home-state basketball career received mention in these parts late last November, when Paige Bueckers set the Hopkins career scoring record in the third game of her senior season — besting a record of 2,335 points that belonged to Knight.

“I was home at Christmas and Cos [coach Brian Cogriff] let me practice with this year’s team,” Knight said. “So, I was on the court with Paige Bueckers, and she’s wonderful.”

 

Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing sports@startribune.com and including his name in the subject line.