Kevin Knox Sees Himself Fitting in Perfectly in Today's NBA

by John Denton

ORLANDO -- Kevin Knox’s dream-come-true night of getting selected in the NBA Draft will come nearly two months prior to his 19th birthday as he is the second-youngest player available to NBA teams.

Clearly mature well beyond his years, a calm, composed and certainly confident Knox said his age should play no role whatsoever in his stock heading into the June 21st NBA Draft. If you can play, you can play, and age should have no bearing on that, he stressed on Tuesday following a pre-draft workout with the Orlando Magic.

``I came to Kentucky as a 17-year-old and then I turned 18 in August. I just learned how to play through it,’’ Knox said. ``I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get held back, so I just came out and competed everywhere that I went. Kentucky helped me out a lot, growing as a person and a player and maturing.

``I’m the second-youngest player in the draft this year, but that doesn’t mean anything,’’ he added. ``It’s not an excuse. I’m in the NBA and I put my name in the draft for a reason – because I think I’m ready. My age has nothing to do with it.’’

Time will tell if the Magic – owners of the No. 6 pick in the first-round of the draft – agree with Knox, a 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward. Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond have an extensive history of drafting multi-skilled players with great length, and Knox would fit that bill with his abilities to shoot from distance and play multiple positions.

``That’s how the game is now with mobile wings who can do it all on the court and really stroke (jump shots),’’ Knox said, referring to his rare combination of size and shooting ability. ``A lot of teams are going to small ball (point guard)-to-(power forward) and the (Golden State) Warriors sometimes go (to a small lineup) (point guard)-to-(center) and everybody can shoot it. My game really complements what the NBA wants – a long guy who can really handle the ball and shoot the ball and make multiple decisions.’’

If Knox were to get drafted by the Magic, it would serve as something of a homecoming as he’s lived in Tampa since he was three years old. He’s been to the Amway Center twice to watch the Magic in person and he kept close tabs on the team this past season because of his friendship with former AAU teammate Jonathan Isaac. Coincidentally, Isaac was the Magic’s pick at No. 6 in last June’s NBA Draft. Nothing would make Knox happier than being drafted at No. 6 by the hometown Magic in three weeks.

``That’d be a great feeling, probably one of the best ones in the whole world,’’ said Knox, who worked out last week in Cleveland, will have a ``Pro Day’’ on Thursday before other scheduled workouts with the Knicks and Bulls. ``One, I’d get drafted and two, it’s close to home. (If drafted by Orlando) my mom’s going to be really happy – an hour away from her baby. My little brothers could come and visit me and stay with me. It would be really convenient, it would be a dream come true to play so close to home, play in front of my family and be drafted by a great organization.’’

The son of former NFL wide receiver Kevin Knox Sr., the younger Knox has been on the path toward the NBA for years after becoming a superstar prospect while playing at Tampa Catholic High School. He averaged 30.1 points as a junior and 28.5 points as a senior, and also started for a Florida-based, Nike-sponsored AAU team. That made him a highly sought-after prospect – not only to collegiate powerhouses such as Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Missouri and Florida State, but also to the Chinese Basketball Association. Ultimately, Knox declined that professional offers and chose to attend Kentucky and play for fiery head coach John Calipari.

``Kevin came in as one of the youngest freshmen in the country and adapted as well as any player I have ever coached,’’ Calapari said in April when Knox announced his intentions to turn pro. ``He improved in every area of his game, became an efficient scorer like some of the best players I’ve ever coached here and could score all types of ways, including runners, pull-ups, 3-pointers, post-ups and in pick-and-roll offense. His defense and rebounding improved throughout the year, which is a big reason why we were able to go on a run at the end of the season.’’

At Kentucky, Knox led the Wildcats in scoring as a true freshman, averaging 15.6 points per game. He also contributed 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor, 34.1 percent from 3-point range and 77.4 percent from the free throw line.

What makes Knox particularly intriguing is his positional versatility and his ability to make shots from afar at his 6-foot-9 size. He had eight games this past season where he made at least three 3-pointers. His best performance of the season – a 34-point, seven-rebound effort against West Virginia – included five 3-point makes and 11-of-17 overall shooting. He also made three 3-pointers in games against Kansas (20 points and seven rebounds) and in the SEC title game against Tennessee (18 points and seven rebounds).

Knox is a month older than Michigan State center Jaren Jackson Jr., another highly coveted top-10 draft prospect. He said his experiences while growing up under a strict father and playing under the pressures at Kentucky have helped him mature quickly and be ready for the NBA. He also noted that several products of Kentucky thrive at the NBA level because they are already used to being highly scrutinized and playing in pressure-packed environments.

``Just the intensity and being able to play 40 minutes and learning to fight … coming into that as a freshman, with the intensity that Coach (Calapari) coaches with him jumping up and screaming all the time, you’ve got to be able to match it,’’ said Knox, who led the Wildcats to the third-round of the NCAA Tournament before an upset loss to Kansas State. ``Playing at Kentucky, before 24,000 people, you have to learn how to grow real fast and play under pressure and playing on ESPN with millions of people watching. Right away, you learn how to play under control. Being the (marked team) and everybody wanting Kentucky to lose. You know there’s going to be a lot of pressure and that’s something that helped me out a lot this season.’’

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