There are few places Kevin Knox II can go where fans won’t recognize him.
Ranked No. 7 in the country, he’s one of the top-rated recruits in the class of 2017 who has not committed to a college program.
And it seems the longer he waits, the more eager fans are to learn which school has a chance at landing him.
High school basketball teams ask to take photos with him. Kids ask for his autograph. And fans try to entice him to sign with their school.
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“Duke, UNC and Kentucky, those fans will spot Kevin,” Michelle Knox, Kevin’s mom, said.
Just recently, Knox was approached by a woman while he was at an airport in Fort Myers, Fla. She was about two feet shorter than the 6-foot-9, 205-pound 17-year-old. She looked up at him and pulled at her University of Kentucky shirt. She had a matching purse, too.
“She was like, ‘Our fans, we travel deep, we travel big,’ ” Michelle Knox recalled with a laugh as she tried to imitate the woman’s voice.
Kevin smiled, as he always does. It comes with the territory of being one of the most highly sought-after recruits in the country. Everybody knows you and everybody wants a piece of you.
Only four schools – Duke, UNC, Florida State and Kentucky – have a chance, though.
Knox, a senior at Tampa Catholic in Tampa, Fla., said before he narrowed his list to those schools, he’d often receive about 30 calls and 30 texts a day.
“I loved it at first, because nobody at my school was really getting all that attention,” he said. “But you have to stay level-headed and not let it get over your head.”
He now lets his dad handle the calls so he can focus on school.
His dad, who’s also Kevin Knox, has been through the recruiting process, too. He was one of the top wide receivers in the country during his day. He started on Florida State’s national championship football team in 1993, with Charlie Ward as his quarterback.
The Buffalo Bills drafted him in the sixth round of the NFL draft in 1994. In between brief stints with the Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams from 1994 to 1999, he played for NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League.
Shoes too big
Before Kevin Knox II, known by his family as “Little Kevin,” was born, his father had a dream that his son would one day be a professional athlete.
He wanted his children to be better than he was. So he started training his son at an early age.
The younger Knox grew up a two-sport athlete, playing basketball and football. He made the varsity team in football during his sophomore year of high school and started at quarterback. He played in 10 games, and threw for 995 yards and 7 touchdowns, according to MaxPreps.
The elder Knox thought his son would follow in his footsteps and play professional football. He had the talent, the elder Knox said, and received scholarship offers from Central Florida, Pittsburgh and Florida International. He was tall for a quarterback at 6-4, but each year he just kept growing.
“At the end of the day when you got a size 18 shoe, them cleats looking mighty big, you 6-7, 6-8, it’s like, ‘Nah, this kid needs to go to basketball now,’ ” the elder Knox said.
So during his junior year of high school, he gave up football and decided to focus solely on basketball, and it’s paid off.
Last month, the younger Knox and his Tampa Catholic team played in the John Wall Invitational at Broughton, where they lost in the tournament finals to Hillcrest Prep from Phoenix, Ariz.
Knox averaged a double-double in three games, with 29 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. He was also named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Each night Knox played, the gym was packed. People were there to see him.
UNC coach Roy Williams, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel were among those there to watch him play.
After each game, the media swarmed Knox, hoping to get a clue as to which college he wants to go to.
But he won’t reveal his choice until after this basketball season. He had his official visit to Duke in October and will visit UNC in February.
Off the court, Knox is quiet, but he’s confident when he speaks. He’s used to the attention.
On the court, he’s confident too. He can jump with the best of them. He dunks as much as he lays up the ball. He rebounds with ease and can knock down the outside shot.
His opponents always give him their best.
“Kevin Knox, he’s a great player,” DeAndre Ayton, the country’s No. 1 recruit in the class of 2017 and a center for Hillcrest Prep, said last month. “He’s very versatile. Sometimes I get lost trying to find him on the court.”
Ayton played against Knox in the John Wall finals, and Ayton, who has committed to Arizona, had his best game.
Knox dropped 38 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the first round of the John Wall Invitational. He also hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer to beat Cary.
“I think this is my first actual game-winner,” Knox said last month. “I mean it’s crazy. All my teammates running to me and jumping on me. It’s a great feeling.”
Tampa Catholic coach Don Dziagwa said when Knox made the varsity team in ninth grade, he was 6-4 and skinny. He averaged just a few points. He eventually grew some, but Dziagwa said it was his work ethic that helped him become the player he is today.
During his junior season for Tampa Catholic, Knox averaged 30 points and 11 rebounds per game.
“He’s a great kid,” Dziagwa said. “Very, very hard worker. Humble. He takes it all in stride.”
‘Like a poker player’
Knox first rose to prominence in 2015, after he played on the Under-16 USA basketball team. He was the last player invited to the team, Knox said. The Team USA coaches had heard about a young kid playing up in age group in the AAU circuit.
The coaches watched him play at a tournament in Houston and came away impressed.
Knox earned a starting spot on the Team USA roster, averaging 10.6 points per game – fourth best on the team – 4.6 rebounds and one assist. He also shot 55.6 percent from the floor.
There he met teammates Wendell Carter and Gary Trent, both Duke commits who are trying to convince Knox to commit to Duke, too.
“All the time,” he said. “They always try to stay in my ear about it.”
After he performed well for USA basketball, he became a popular name on the recruiting trail. It was the first time he had been on the national scene. And now everybody knows him.
Knox’s father, however, tries to keep him grounded.
“Because one day it can be there, the next day it can be taken away, and I know that personally,” he said. “You can have talent, but that doesn’t mean anything. You have to be humble. With Kevin, you may see first-round talent, but you also are going to see a work ethic that says, ‘I’m not even drafted.’ That’s how you get the Jerry Rices of the world.”
At an early age, the younger Knox would make hundreds of shots a day, run, lift weights, dribble drills and work on the fundamentals of basketball.
He now has trainers that help him work on the details of his game, but working on the fundamentals remains the basis for his training.
“I’m probably most proud that he stayed humble and hungry,” his father said. “Humble guy. I think that’s probably the quarterback in him. Doesn’t get too emotional, beating his chest. He just stays even-keel, like a poker player.”
Where’s he leaning?
If you polled Knox’s family members, you’d have a tough time figuring out which way he’s leaning. His youngest brother likes UNC. Another brother likes Kentucky. And his sister likes Florida State, where Knox’s parents went to school.
Michelle Knox, Kevin’s mother, likes something about all four schools. She likes just about everything at Duke, from the campus to its reputation with academics.
“Of course you can’t go wrong with Coach K,” she said of head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Legendary coach.”
But growing up she was a UNC fan who loved Michael Jordan and Rick Fox, she said.
“I just like the homely feel of coach Roy Williams,” Michelle Knox said. “He reminds me of your granddad or your uncle who wants to squeeze your cheeks.”
At Kentucky, she really likes assistant coach Kenny Payne, the main recruiter for the Wildcats.
Then there’s Florida State, where Knox’s parents met and started dating. And they’re both die-hard Seminoles fans. Knox had his official visit to Florida State earlier this month. He’ll visit Kentucky later this month, before his Feb. 4 visit to UNC.
While Tampa Catholic was in Raleigh for the John Wall tournament in December, both Duke and UNC let the team have shootarounds in their practice gyms. The schools also gave the team tours of their campuses, and UNC gave Tampa Catholic tickets to its game against Monmouth.
“The coaches are all really nice and they want the best for Kevin. You can tell,” Michelle Knox said. “I think of course they want their program to win, but it seems at this point they all really genuinely care about what his decision is and how he is going to be able to perform there to be in a position to grow.”
His to make
The younger Knox’s decision on where to play college basketball will involve his family but will ultimately be his to make.
Knox said each of the schools on his list has a player who’s similar to him, and he’s watching how each team uses that player.
“It’s going to be a tough decision for Kevin,” Michelle Knox said. “It really is. I think at this point, he knows it’s going to be tough, but he has to really pray about the right decision, the right situation.”
Each college coach who’s recruiting Knox has given him a different pitch.
Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton has told him he’ll get as many touches and minutes as he would at any other schools because he’d be the school’s star player.
Krzyzewski has told him to watch Duke freshman forward Jayson Tatum. He’s also said Knox would play with good players and be everywhere on the court.
Calipari has told him he can play any position but wants him to play on the wing – Knox’s primary position – and be a playmaker who can help Kentucky win a national championship.
UNC’s Williams has enticed him on the Tar Heels’ patented fast-break offense. That’s how Knox plays at Tampa Catholic, and he could do the same there.
Whatever school Knox picks, though, he doesn’t expect to be there long. He wants to play one year, then head to the NBA draft.
“The way they are paying the people now, everybody is getting good money,” he said. “So I want to be a one-and-done, that’s what I set my goal when I started high school. I just have to keep working.”
Whatever school puts him in the best position to reach that goal is where he wants to go.