There were seven courts going for the first block of games on the opening night of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League session in Indianapolis on Friday.
Two of University of Kentucky Coach John Calipari’s earliest recruiting targets in the class of 2017 — John Petty and Gary Trent Jr. — were going head to head on one court. In an opposite corner of the sprawling complex, No. 2 national prospect Wendell Carter, another early UK target, was playing his first game of the weekend.
Calipari figured he’d catch them later.
To open that first night of EYBL action, the UK coach only had eyes for Kevin Knox, a 6-foot-8 small forward out of Tampa, Fla., and recent recipient of the MaxPreps.com national junior of the year award.
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Calipari was a little late to the party — as far as scholarship offers go — in his recruitment of Knox, who has long had offers from Duke and North Carolina, among many others, but just last week picked one up from UK.
“I mean, everyone wants Kentucky, so it was a big offer,” Knox said after tallying 25 points and 13 rebounds in a victory while Calipari watched. “He told me I’m a priority to them.”
Calipari is backing up that talk.
For the rest of the weekend, if Knox was on the court, Calipari was right there watching.
Perhaps the coach feels like UK is in catch-up mode with Knox, who has been presumed by many to be favoring Duke and UNC, along with possibly Florida State, where his father was a football player on the 1993 national championship team.
Knox says there’s no need for any special attention. He said the only reason he visited Duke and UNC so early in the process is because he was in the area to visit his grandfather. He also said UK has been in regular contact since the beginning of his high school season and it didn’t really matter that the scholarship offer came so much later than some other top schools.
“As of now, I’m open to everyone. I really have no favorites,” he said. “Everyone is even.”
Sometimes high-profile high school prospects make such public statements, and those in recruiting circles know there’s a different truth behind the scenes.
Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels doesn’t think that’s the case here.
The Wildcats are in the mix, he says, and the belated offer hasn’t hurt their chances.
“At this point, Kentucky has had so much success recruiting, they can pretty much get involved with any recruitment at almost any time,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “Were there other schools there first, like Duke and North Carolina? Yeah. But I don’t think he’s deciding any time soon. So there’s plenty of time.”
Scout.com ranks Knox as the No. 6 overall prospect in the class of 2017. He averaged 29.6 points and 10.9 rebounds for Tampa Catholic as a junior, boasts experience with the USA Basketball program and has the skills to play the brand of “positionless” basketball that Calipari has been touting for the past couple of years.
“He’s a 6-foot-8 wing with good length and very good athleticism,” Daniels said. “He’s developed a pretty good jump shot off the catch from three. And he’s very competitive on the defensive end. Another thing I really like about him is his ability to rebound from the perimeter position and start the break.”
Knox’s athleticism is unmistakable.
He was the starting quarterback for Tampa Catholic’s football team and was already drawing interest from college programs as a sophomore.
Knox’s father — also named Kevin — was selected in the 1994 NFL Draft after his college career with Florida State was finished, and it was assumed that the younger Kevin would follow in his footsteps.
But “little” Kevin’s footsteps kept growing. And growing. And growing some more.
The elder Knox said his son had a size 18 shoe at 16 years old.
“Peyton Manning doesn’t wear a size 18, you know what I mean?” he said. “Cam Newton doesn’t wear a size 18. And you’re 16 and still growing? At the end of the day, the upside was he’ll probably be 6-10, with a 19-20 shoe. That doesn’t really equate necessarily to NFL quarterback.
“But those numbers do equate to the highest-of-the-high-level playing basketball.”
His father’s experience as a big-time college football player benefits Knox with a unique perspective on the recruiting process. Father and son both appreciate the interest, but neither seemed especially wowed by the UK offer or the fact that Calipari sat there for nearly every minute of every one of his games over the weekend.
They’ll be taking a pragmatic approach to this college decision.
“To be honest with you, for us, it was just another school,” the father said of UK. “It’s another opportunity to get a college education. And another opportunity for him to play basketball at the highest level. A lot of programs have success, and they’re one of them.
“When he says he’s wide open, we are. Coach Calipari said some good things, and we liked what he said. As we liked what some of the other coaches say, too. At the end, we’re just going to come down and see what best fits our son.”