UK Men's Basketball

From Big Blue to big boos: Knox faces new challenge with Knicks

New York Knicks first-round NBA Draft pick Kevin Knox spoke to the media during a news conference at the team's training facility on Friday in Tarrytown, N.Y.
New York Knicks first-round NBA Draft pick Kevin Knox spoke to the media during a news conference at the team's training facility on Friday in Tarrytown, N.Y. AP

After being chosen by the New York Knicks with the ninth pick of Thursday night’s NBA Draft, Kevin Knox enjoyed a Face Time video call with Kristaps Porzingis. Of course, the two had something in common: the Knicks took Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

“He asked, ‘How did the fans react?’” Knox said at an introductory news conference Friday. “I said, ‘I got the same boos you got.’

“He said, ‘Just work, and sooner or later they’ll be cheering for you.’”

Watching the live stream of the news conference, it was easy to hear reporters laugh.

For New York Knicks picks, booing is as much a part of the draft experience as making a fashion statement and shaking the commissioner’s hand. Former UK All-American Kenny Walker heard boos when the Knicks took him with the fifth pick of the 1986 NBA Draft.

“(The Knicks) could choose Jesus Christ, and I think Knicks fans will boo or find some fault,” Walker said on Friday. “Or say, ‘Nah, this is not the guy. He is not going to help us.’”

Fred Kerber, a sportswriter with the New York Post, credits Patrick Ewing for best putting the booing and playing for the Knicks in perspective. When the Knicks drafted Porzingis, Ewing (picked by the Knicks with the first pick of the 1985 NBA Draft) famously said, “You have to have thick skin.”

Walker, who acknowledged a year ago that the booing that greeted the calling of his name “hurt my feelings a little bit,” offered a reason why Knicks fans jeer rather than cheer. “I think a lot of fans boo the choice just to get on TV,” he said.

In 1986, Walker had the burden of being seen as the player to replace Knicks icon Bernard King. And fans thought that person should be Auburn star Chuck Person, who was taken by Indiana with the fourth pick that year.

Knox, who led Kentucky in scoring as a freshman last season, faced a similar problem this year. Fans had fallen in love with the idea of the Knicks drafting the more heralded but more fragile Michael Porter Jr., who missed almost all of last season after undergoing back surgery.

Kerber noticed a spike in the volume and vexation of reaction to his regular mock draft when he proposed Porter as the Knicks’ pick.

“I got all these emails (saying) ‘There’s no way he’ll drift down to the Knicks,’” Kerber said. “Like, ... ‘how can you raise our hopes up?'”

Then concerns about the soundness of Porter’s physical condition left him undrafted until the 14th pick. The Knicks chose Knox. Cue the boos.

Knox’s reaction to the booing reassured Walker and Kerber that the former UK player — despite not turning 19 until Aug. 11 — had the necessary thickness of skin.

“I’m not going to be upset,” Knox said Friday. “I’m not going to cry about it. ... It’s motivation, fuel to the fire.”

This response showed a level of maturity that will serve Knox well, Walker and Kerber said.

Another factor perceived as easing Knox’s transition to the NBA is the current status of the Knicks. The team is in what Walker called “a total rebuild.” A torn anterior cruciate ligament that might sideline the team’s star, Porzingis, for all of next season made this reality all the more apparent.

“He is on the ground floor of a rebuild,” former long-time NBA coach Del Harris wrote of Knox in a text message. “Excellent opportunity. Staying in school would have benefited him and UK, but how much higher can one go?? He will get the PT in NY to develop.”

The Knicks’ first-year coach, David Fizdale, said Friday that Knox might be the team’s starting small forward next season. Fizdale spoke of Knox embracing challenges.

“He wanted to be at Kentucky,” Fizdale said. “That’s a tough place to say ‘I’m going here and I’m going to flourish in this place.’ You have to have a certain type of attitude, a certain confidence, a certain competitive edge to want that.”

More than once during draft week, Knox suggested that playing for Kentucky helped prepare him for the NBA. UK played in big games that featured a national television audience.

Although Kentucky provides a grand stage for college basketball, Kerber suggested Knox might face more of an adjustment than he realizes. Fans booing on draft night is merely the ground floor for the unblinking scrutiny to come.

“Honestly, he has no idea,” Kerber said. “Playing at Kentucky is good preparation for playing in the NBA. OK? Playing in the NBA is fair preparation for playing in New York.

“There’s nothing like New York. Trust me.”

Former Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was drafted by the Hornets and traded to the Clippers, said foreign players are taking the U.S. by notice in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander is from Hamilton, Canada.

One-and-done warning

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas offered good news for those who dislike the so-called one-and-done rule. He predicted that the rule will be rescinded within the next three seasons or so.

But, Bilas added, those who dislike one-and-done should be careful what they wish for.

“I think a lot of people are forgetting the landscape when there was a one-and-done rule,” he said. “The one-and-done rule came in for a reason.”

The NBA did not want to draft high school players. The NBA did not want its scouts sitting in high school gyms assessing possible draft picks.

As for college coaches, no one-and-done rule meant time and money could be spent recruiting a player that decided in the 11th hour to enter the NBA Draft.

“It was a mess before the one-and-done rule ...,” Bilas said.

Fast-forwarding to the present, Bilas said, “We blamed all our problems in college basketball on the one-and-done rule. And the one-and-done rule is not responsible for all our problems. We had these problems before one-and-done and we’re going to have them after one-and-done. And we’ll conveniently blame something else when we have some problem after the one-and-done rule is gone.”

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Hello-goodbye

At the NBA Draft, Collin Sexton said Alabama Coach Avery Johnson supported his decision to follow the one-and-done path.

“He was more for me leaving because he knew that my time at Alabama had come to an end,” Sexton said.

Meanwhile, Marvin Bagley III said he struggled with the decision to leave Duke after his freshman season.

“People think it’s a no-brainer ...,” he said. “But I really had to sit down and think about what I was going to do. Being around that environment (and) Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski), I feel like I learned a lot as a person. To kind of go away from that, it was kind of hard.”

The Charlotte Hornets selected Michigan State guard/forward Miles Bridges with the 12th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on Thursday, June 21, 2018.

‘Cute’ questions

During a session with the media Wednesday, Kevin Knox acknowledged that an NBA team had asked him during a pre-draft interview if he was a father. He is not.

This question brought to mind such off-the-wall questions as how many jelly beans would fill a jar? Or, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said, he was asked during this pre-draft process, how many basketballs would fill the room? A team asked Trae Young how many tiny foam basketballs he was holding in one hand would fit into the glass cup he was holding with the other.

ESPN NBA insider Bobby Marks, who formerly worked in the Nets’ front office, recoiled.

“We never did that in New Jersey and Brooklyn,” he said earlier this spring. “We were really straight forward. We never got cute with the questions.”

One reason was because time is limited to get to know players, he said. The purpose of such questions? To move a player off a rehearsed set of responses in order to better know him, Marks said.

Shaq-Kobe 2.0?

Anticipating being picked by Phoenix with the first overall choice in Thursday NBA Draft, Deandre Ayton said he and ex-Cat Devin Booker could reprise the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant combination that brought the Lakers multiple championships.

“The two-man game is really lethal in the NBA today ...,” Ayton said. “I can pick-and-pop, and Devin is a threat coming off the pick. So that’d be pretty hard to guard.”

‘Saint Frances’

Kim Ramsey, the vice president of operations for JMI, previously worked for Cawood Ledford. She knew his wife, Frances Ledford, who died last week at age 90.

“I jokingly called her Saint Frances,” Ramsey said.

A story last week about Frances Ledford’s death misidentified how she met Cawood. They met when both worked for WHAS radio.

“Frances Ledford was Cawood’s rock,” long-time Louisville radio personality Terry Meiners wrote in an email. “Her gentle smile was the brightest light in his life. They always gazed at each other as if they were on their first date. Great people. I am happy knowing that they are reunited in Heaven.”

Happy birthday

To Ravi Moss. He turned 34 on Thursday. ... To Derek Willis. He turned 23 on Thursday. ... To former Western Kentucky and Georgia Coach Dennis Felton. He turned 55 on Thursday. ... To Brandon Stockton. He turns 34 on Monday. ... To former UK Director of Athletics Larry Ivy. He turns 75 on Tuesday. ... To Dominique Hawkins. He turns 24 on Wednesday.

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