The way things have been going for the Triangle lately, Kevin Knox’s decision to go to Kentucky instead of Duke or North Carolina represents a rare moment where this area has taken a basketball loss.
After three Final Fours and two national championships in the past three years for North Carolina and Duke, along with an ACC championship for each, and the optimism surrounding Kevin Keatts’ arrival at N.C. State, and N.C. Central’s dominance of the MEAC, things have been pretty good around here. Losing out on Knox throws a little bit of a wrench into the works, even if both Duke and North Carolina will once again go into the season among the national-title contenders even without him.
Mike Krzyzewski has gotten used to getting pretty much any recruit he wants these days, and he wanted Knox to fill out a recruiting class that could have been Duke’s second straight top-ranked group nationally – one that already includes top-10 prospects Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. and could still add point guard Trevon Duval, all of which would have needed to happen to oust Kentucky from atop the rankings. Still, with Grayson Allen coming back to go with the other freshmen, the Blue Devils will be stocked even if Frank Jackson jumps to the NBA – and he’s primed for a breakout sophomore season if he doesn’t.
And if Roy Williams can’t land a sure-fire one-and-done player like Knox even after winning a national title and going to back-to-back Final Fours and getting Joel Berry back to quarterback next season’s attempt at a repeat, will he again? (That presumes Tony Bradley, who has yet to withdraw from the draft or hire an agent, doesn’t end up being a surprise one-and-done.) Williams has had success with one-and-done players like Knox in the past. He just hasn’t landed any lately. With Berry and Theo Pinson coming back, the Tar Heels should be fine even if Bradley turns pro.
For either team, Knox might have been the talent that put them over the top. Krzyzewski could point to Jayson Tatum’s season at Duke as a model for what Knox could be in Durham; Williams could point to Justin Jackson’s development and junior-year explosion as a model for what Knox could be in Chapel Hill. Apparently, neither example was enough to convince Knox, who joined Kentucky’s replenishment of one-and-dones instead.
While Florida State and Missouri were the other contenders, the odds seemed decent that Knox would inject a little more excitement into what was already an eagerly anticipated season; instead, the Triangle took a rare collective basketball loss on this one, even if prospects for next season remain bright.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock