A relative unknown in the world of recruiting this time last year, Kevin Knox came to Team USA U16 basketball tryouts with something to prove and little to lose.
Of the 29 players chosen to participate in last year’s training camp, Knox was the very last to earn an invitation and little more than an afterthought to most of those in attendance.
That changed as the week progressed.
“Coming into USA last year, I had a chip on my shoulder,” Knox told the Herald-Leader. “I knew I was the last person invited. I knew that I had to come with the right mentality. I worked hard, so hard, every single day to make this team.
“It was so great for me.”
Knox was the breakout star of last year’s camp. He ultimately made the U16 squad and emerged as a starter as Team USA rolled to a FIBA gold medal in Argentina.
The Florida native gained a lot of confidence from that experience, carried it over to the Nike circuit and was ranked as a five-star recruit by the end of the summer.
Now, he’s the No. 6 overall prospect in the class of 2017.
“Some of these kids develop at different times,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “And he came to this environment, which is usually tough for kids that come their first time, and really excelled. It brought out the best in him.”
Knox continued to excel once the high school season started.
He averaged 29.6 points and 10.6 rebounds for Tampa Catholic and was named national junior of the year by MaxPreps.com.
Last week, Knox returned to Team USA camp — this time to try out for the U17 team — as one of the most highly touted players in the country.
“He comes back this year with different expectations, but he’s still far exceeded them,” Daniels said. “He’s been as productive as anybody here. Over the last year, he’s made significant improvements to his game. He’s developed his ball skills. He’s improved his perimeter jump shot.
“He’s a guy that you can play full time on the perimeter as a ‘3’ man, but I think with this team, he’s going to play a lot as a face-up ‘4’ man, just because of how versatile he is, and there’s not many ‘4s’ that can guard him — a guy with those ball skills, that athleticism, length and ability to shoot. He’s just an awesome prospect, and he continues to develop.”
Knox has also grown a couple of inches since last summer — he’s currently listed at 6-foot-8 and 195 pounds — and possesses rare athleticism for his frame that allows him to play and defend multiple positions.
Team USA developmental coach Don Showalter saw something in Knox when he first invited him to training camp last summer. He remembers having it narrowed down to Knox and one other player for the final spot, choosing Knox after watching him play on the Nike circuit at the end of the spring.
“Obviously, he turned out to be off the charts for us,” Showalter said. “He approaches everything kind of the same way. You never see him get upset when something doesn’t go right. You never see him miss a shot and put his head down.
“He just plays the game. And if you can do that as a young player, you’re going to get better awfully quick.”
Knox now has scholarship offers from just about every major school in the country.
UK Coach John Calipari extended an offer this spring and become a mainstay at his games on the Nike circuit. Duke and North Carolina offered before that, and local schools Florida State (his parents’ alma mater) and Miami are often mentioned prominently in his recruitment.
Don’t expect a commitment — or even much of a recruiting update — from Knox any time soon.
He told the Herald-Leader that he’s nowhere close to a college decision and doesn’t plan on cutting his list of schools until after next month’s Nike Peach Jam. Even then, the list will still include 10 or 12 schools.
“Right now, I’m just listening to all the colleges,” Knox said. “There are still new schools coming in, so I’m wide open to everyone. As of now, any college coach that calls me, I’m all ears. I’m just listening to what they have to say.”
“I don’t really want to sign in the early period. I’m probably going to go till next year, let the coaches come see me in high school.”
In the meantime, Knox will continue to develop his game. Though often pegged as a small forward because of his versatility and improved skills away from the basket, Knox said he’s still working on his post game, just in case.
“Whatever college I go to, it’ll be wherever coach puts me,” he said. “I’m doing a mixture of everything, so at the next level I can play pretty much every position.”
That mentality — along with that athleticism and skill set — will send Knox a long way.
“He’s so young, and he’s already developing those physical attributes,” Showalter said. “And then you put that with his mental toughness. That’s a perfect example of what you like in a player.
“He’ll be a pro. He could be an All-Star for years.”