Meet the Wildcats: Whirlwind recruitment over, Knox ready for freshman campaign

Special thanks to Papa John’s for presenting this year’s Meet the Wildcats series.

The 2017-18 season is fast approaching, and head coach John Calipari’s latest top-ranked recruiting class features seven fresh new faces. Over the next several weeks, CoachCal.com will profile each of Kentucky’s newcomers in its annual and exclusive “Meet the Wildcats” series. Each story will be accompanied with an episode of the Behind Kentucky Basketball podcast, as well as a video of each player playing a game of Horse against either Kentucky basketball great Rex Chapman or Hollywood actor and Kentucky basketball superfan Josh Hopkins. The 2017-18 series continues with Kevin Knox, a 6-foot-9 forward who, after a whirlwind recruitment, is excited to be at Kentucky and show off his guard-like abilities.

Podcast: Behind Kentucky Basketball with Kevin Knox

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t was supposed to be one of the most exciting days of Kevin Knox’s young life. After a whirlwind recruitment that had everyone guessing where he, one of the top prospects in the entire 2017 class, was going to go to school, Knox was ready to announce his decision.

He had a social media post, fit with a graphic of him in the uniform of his school of choice, ready to go. He clicked send, turned his phone off and handed it to his parents.

Knox’s recruitment was over and he didn’t want to see the reaction.

Bio Blast

Position: Forward
Date of birth: Aug. 11, 1999
Parents: Michelle and Kevin Knox
Hometown: Riverview, Fla.
High school: Tampa Catholic
Twitter: @kevin_knox23
Instagram: @kknox_23
Favorite TV show: Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Favorite food: Chicken tenders
Favorite superhero: Hulk
Favorite player: Kevin Durant
Favorite sport/hobby outside of basketball: Football and 2K
Favorite movie: Love and Basketball
Favorite musical artist: Migos and Drake

“I turned my phone off for a day-and-a-half after all the chaos,” Knox said in an exclusive interview with CoachCal.com. “As soon as I pressed send on Instagram and Twitter, I immediately turned my phone off, gave it to my parents and let them have it for like a day-and-a-half. I didn’t want none of that criticism, all those people cussing at me and all that bad, negative energy.”

While Knox was excited about his choice and happy the process was complete, he knew others wouldn’t share his same enthusiasm. Knox, obviously, knew he wanted to go to Kentucky, but the number of other people who knew that was small. Many of the most respected recruiting analysts believed Knox would choose any one of his other finalists other than Kentucky. Surprise commitments in recruiting rarely occur in the 21st century, and this qualified as one of the biggest surprises in recent memory.

“Every time I got a notification on Twitter, an article came out, we sat down and talked about it,” said Knox of the conversations he had with his family about his recruitment. “(We) just laughed about it because people just like to guess where you’re going like they know what’s going on inside your house. I mean, all those outside people I just kept my circle small between my family and I. We just talked and made a decision that was best for me.

“I mean, I know a lot of people said that Kentucky was like one of my last schools on my list the whole time, but like I said, a lot of people didn’t know what was going on inside my house. They say all that stuff, but I had a different thought process the whole time. I actually really liked Kentucky, what Cal was saying, what (Kenny Payne) was saying.”

Many believed Knox would choose to go elsewhere, in part, because Kentucky already had commitments from similarly athletic, versatile forwards PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt. But it was Vanderbilt who actually reached out to Knox shortly after his own commitment to encourage Knox to come to UK with him. Add in that Knox announced he would make his decision public on Derby Day, a holiday in the state of Kentucky, and Big Blue Nation and recruiting analysts thought Knox’s days as a Wildcat were gone before they started.

“PJ and Jarred both committed, both similar players, but we’re kind of different in a lot of areas,” Knox said. “I mean, we’re both really great players. I think that we’ll do really well together. You’ll see us on the court a lot together. I think Cal really likes our abilities to be able to get rebounds and dribble. So, I think you’ll see us a lot on the court. A lot of people say we can’t play together, but (Jarred) hit me up after he committed, doing his recruiting spiel. It’s not like we didn’t want to play with each other. We’re doing really well now actually.”

So Knox made his decision, he was Bluegrass bound, and then he shut out the social media world for 36 hours. He played NBA 2K, where he suits up for the Rockets (it’s not fair to play with the Warriors, he says, unless you’re facing someone who’s playing with the Cavaliers) watched TV and relaxed.

The “negative energy” that followed his decision was expected. After all, just about every fan base of the schools listed among Knox’s finalists thought they were going to get the prized prospect. Now, as for the source of who spewed the majority of that negativity. That perhaps came as a surprise at times.

“I think people just take it to heart,” Knox said. “It’s kind of sad to see people go at young kids like that, but it’s part of life. That’s what my dad trained me for to be mentally strong for that. And it be mostly adults that be coming at you too. That’s the sad thing about it. You don’t have nothing else to do with your life? Like, you’re coming at a 17-year-old kid who’s just making a decision that’s best for him. So, it’s like, what are you doing? Like, just move on. You have other recruits. You have next year. It’s not the end of the world.

Kevin Knox knew that because his recruitment came down to the wire and it was going to be a surprise to many that some opposing fans would be upset by the outcome. (photo by UK Athletics)

“But I know the coaches for the other teams, they all texted me and said great decision, just wishing me luck and stuff like that. That was real professional of them. That was good. My parents really liked that. I liked that too. It’s just good to see the coaches respect my decision and not (act) like their fans, basically.”

Though he played before the social media age, Knox’s dad, Kevin Knox Sr., was a wide receiver for College Football Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Bowden at Florida State and warned his son what was coming.

“Before I made my decision my parents told me I was going to get a lot of bad talk, negative comments,” Knox said. “All of the schools really wanted me to come there, especially UNC, Duke. Those are schools that really thought they had a chance at getting me. Then, when I didn’t go there, I kinda got a lot of criticism for that. But, I mean, my dad basically, he’s been through it so he knows what I gotta do mentally to get through that. That’s one of the reasons that I turned my phone off.”

Knox Sr. reeled in more than 100 passes at FSU, including 42 and seven touchdowns as a senior on the Seminoles’ 1993 national championship team.

Like his dad, the younger Knox had a budding football career himself as a quarterback for his high school, Tampa Catholic. College interest and offers began to cycle in for him as a sophomore, but that also happened to be the final year he played.

Knox was getting to be a bit too tall to play football and his feet were too big. As a quarterback, he was also the recipient of some big-time hits that helped make his decision easier.

“I didn’t want to risk injuries and me risking basketball and football,” Knox said, “so I just decided to stick to one sport that I love and I decided to pick basketball.”

His recruiting visit to Kentucky still included football, though. Knox’s father just so happens to be friends with UK football tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow, as well as wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas, who played at Miami while Knox Sr. was at FSU.

“He’s my everything. He’s my role model. People always ask me, ‘Who’s your role model? Who’s your super hero?’ I always say my dad.” – Kevin Knox
“I didn’t know who they were, but when my dad told me we were going to go to the football facility, I was like, ‘I’m here on a basketball visit. Why are we going to see football?’ ” Knox said. “Then he told me everything about Coach Vince and everything. It was good to go over there. We sat down and talked with them a little bit. He walked us around their new facility – it’s really nice actually. It was a great visit. My dad, he loves to go talk to old friends and everything like that.

“(Coach Marrow) was definitely trying to sell me to come here. I mean, obviously he sold my dad. He got my dad to get me to come here and I decided to come here too. He sold me pretty well.”

While he didn’t follow in his dad’s footsteps on the football field, Knox admires and looks up to his father in everything he does. His pregame routine includes a conversation with his parents, where his dad will often go over a scouting report on the opposing team. Off the court, Knox Sr. is there to provide his son with lessons and life tips.

“He’s my everything. He’s my role model,” Knox said. “People always ask me, ‘Who’s your role model? Who’s your super hero?’ I always say my dad. He’s been to the highest level. He knows what it takes. He’s been to college, won a national championship, got drafted. He just knows what it takes to get there. My dad has one of the hardest work ethics in the world. He’s always working.”

Now that he’s at Kentucky, Knox provides the Wildcats with supreme versatility. Head coach John Calipari stresses positionless basketball, and Knox appears to be the epitome of that.

He got a head start on his training under Coach Cal when he accepted an invitation to USA Basketball training camp for the FIBA U19 World Cup. Playing against some of the best players in the country in his age group, Knox was a star in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Knox, who had played for USA in some capacity twice already, made the trip because he wanted to represent his country again. Unfortunately for him, he tweaked his hamstring one practice and decided with Coach Cal that heading back to Lexington to rest would be the best option.

Though he stands at 6-foot-9, UK head coach John Calipari calls Knox a guard. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

“One of the reasons I went out there is because my family is really big on military and air force and stuff like that,” Knox said. “I have a couple uncles and aunts who are in the military now. So, I talked to my dad and told him I really want to go because of that. I wanted to represent my country for the third time. I got out there and I thought I played really well like Cal said. All the other coaches were really impressed. Just happened to have the injury. I was pretty disappointed.”

After one such impressive practice, Calipari called the 6-foot-9 forward a “guard.” By comparison, Knox would have been tied for the fourth tallest player on last year’s UK roster and just one inch shorter than Bam Adebayo, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard.

Knox sees players such as Draymond Green and Kevin Durant – his favorite player – of the Warriors, and sees the postionless direction that basketball is moving. His time at quarterback helped develop his footwork, he said, and now he’s working on his ball handling, jump shot and defense so that he will be able to better defend guards along the perimeter.

Being pushed in practice by fellow athletic, versatile wings, such as Washington and Vanderbilt, will only enhance Knox’s game and is another reason he said he ultimately chose to come to UK.

“I think that’s one of our biggest strengths that’s going to be this year for Kentucky is we have a lot of wings, a lot of guards, so when we get rebounds we’re going to be able to just go,” Knox said. “We don’t have to find Quade (Green) or Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) or a point guard to bring the ball up the court. We have people who can dribble the ball up and down the court. I think that’s going to be one of our strengths this year.”

And to anyone who doesn’t think Knox can play guard, he plans on shutting out those doubters in a similar fashion to how he canceled out his haters.

“A lot of people say that I’m not a guard,” Knox said. “A lot of people say that I’m going to play the 4, I’m not really capable of playing guard, but I just take that as fuel. I’m going to get in the gym, I’m gonna keep working. Cal wants me to be a guard, guard/forward. … All the people saying I can’t do it, I’m going to keep working and make sure that I can do what they’re saying I can’t do.”