UK Men's Basketball

Football’s loss is Kentucky’s gain as Kevin Knox prepares for freshman season

Kevin Knox on giving up football: My dream was to make it to the NBA

UK basketball player Kevin Knox talks about his career as a football quarterback before switching to basketball.
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UK basketball player Kevin Knox talks about his career as a football quarterback before switching to basketball.

Before making a college decision, Kevin Knox had to make a sport decision: Football, which his father played for Florida State, or basketball.

“Oh, it was serious,” Knox said of the football option. “I had a whole bunch of college offers and interest. And I was ranked and everything. It was a big thing.”

When he played football, Knox was a 6-foot-6 quarterback. He said he enjoyed the advantage of looking over the defense. He noticed that players such as Cam Newton and Peyton Manning — both 6-5 — showed that height was no problem for a quarterback.

Now, Knox is 6-9 and — if you insist on a position, and he doesn’t — a forward for Kentucky.

Basketball, he explained, was the sport of his dreams. He wanted to play in the NBA.

Basketball held another advantage. It was more fun.

“Oh yeah, definitely more fun,” Knox said. “I’m having a great time playing basketball. Ever since I made the transition, I had no regrets. No regrets.”

The brain injuries associated with football came after Knox decided to devote his sporting energies to basketball. But he and his family were well aware of the hazards associated with playing football.

“My mom, she was definitely real scared about my health with playing football,” Knox said. “Because as tall as I was and my knees (exposed) and everything, football is a real physical sport. It’s definitely crazy.”

His father, also named Kevin Knox, played wide receiver for Florida State’s 1993 national championship team. Charlie Ward, who won the Heisman Trophy, was the quarterback. His father knows the sacrifices that must be made to be a top-level athlete.

The elder Knox shied from showing film of his football exploits to his son.

“But my mom showed me one,” the UK player said. “It was like a five-minute disc of all his catches and all his fights.”

Fights?

“My dad’s crazy,” Knox said. “He got in a couple of scuffles every now and then in practice.”

A younger brother inherited the father’s feistiness, Knox said. “Always trying to fight. Always thinking he’s right.

“But I’m like my mom. I’m really kind of laid back, chill and just like to get the job done.”

Scout, Rivals and ESPN tabbed Knox a top-10 national prospect. ESPN commentator Dick Vitale, who lives relatively close to Knox’s home in Tampa, had watched him play last season and crowed about the impact the player can make.

Earlier this preseason, Coach John Calipari said that Knox might be one of Kentucky’s better shooters. “But I want him to drive the ball and have to make decisions,” Calipari said.

Think of Jamal Murray and several other former UK players who Calipari did not want to become dependent on perimeter shots.

Knox said he’s gotten stronger because he believes college basketball will be a more physical than he’s played in the past.

Knox only turned 18 on Aug. 11. This led Calipari to compare him to other even-younger-than-normal freshmen like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Isaac Humphries.

With the exception of Kidd-Gilchrist, those players did not play prominent roles as freshman. Knox would seem to be an exception. He conceded that it was hard to say in the preseason what his role would be, but he envisioned being a foundational piece for this Kentucky team.

“Put the ball in the basket,” he said of the role he expected. Be able to get rebounds. And pretty much be one of the better defenders on the team.

“So that’s something I have to put my mind to.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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