John Clay

Under the national radar, Kevin Knox is off to a solid start

Down at No. 1 Duke, there’s Marvin Bagley, he of the near-automatic double-doubles, leading the Blue Devils to a perfect record right out of the block, taking the early lead in the race to be college basketball’s best freshman for 2017-18.

Over at Alabama there’s point guard Collin Sexton, averaging nearly 25 points, hitting almost 50 percent of his three shots, earning raves as probably the best freshman guard in the country.

There’s Jaren Jackson, blocking shots with those ridiculously long arms at Michigan State. There’s Trae Young, the Oklahoma point guard who’s averaging nearly 29 points and nine assists for the Sooners.

So where does Kevin Knox, the best freshman on a Kentucky squad stacked with freshmen, fit into the national conversation about all these first-year wonders populating the current state of college hoops?

Though he has been under the radar, Knox fits in quite nicely, actually.

Just because Bagley, Sexton, Jackson and Young, among others, have been hogging the early-season limelight doesn’t mean that the 6-foot-9 forward from Tampa, Fla., hasn’t lived up to his preseason billing as the highest-ranked recruit in John Calipari’s 2017 class. Far from it.

In fact, after scoring 20 points and grabbing seven rebounds to lead the Cats to a 79-70 win over Harvard in Rupp Arena on Saturday, you can make the case that Knox has been a model of consistency through the first eight games of his collegiate career.

He has scored in double figures in all eight games, including three games where he’s scored 20 or more. He has never scored fewer than 11 points. He’s grabbed six or more rebounds in six of his eight games. He has been to the free-throw line four or more times in six of the eight, as well.

Through eight games, Knox leads the team in minutes per game at 35.2. He leads the Cats in scoring at 16.6 per game and in made three-pointers with 13. He’s second in rebounds at 5.9 per game and second in steals with nine, behind fellow freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 20 steals.

He’s making 70.3 percent of his free-throw attempts, and also has 13 assists and five blocked shots.

“I’m getting better,” Knox said on Saturday. “I struggled early in the season, but I’m starting to realize and starting to figure out my role on this team. Cal is figuring out how I need to play. I’m starting to figure out how Cal wants me to play and that’s good.”

Has Knox seen the other freshmen play, like Bagley and Sexton and Jackson and Young? Does he keep up with the rest of the notables in his rookie class?

“I love watching college basketball,” Knox said. “I just watch games that are on TV. I don’t watch anybody in particular. If I see college basketball on TV I watch it. I was watching before I came out here (for interviews) the Syracuse and Kansas game. That’s just something I do.”

On the floor, Calipari thinks Knox can do more. Though Knox is obviously a terrific three-point threat, Calipari doesn’t want the freshman always floating around the perimeter. He wants Knox to also take it to the basket, post up, expand his game.

“I liked that Kevin was driving the ball and doing some good stuff that way,” Calipari said Saturday. “But we’ve got a ways to go.”

The coach was speaking of his whole team. So far, to Cal’s way of thinking, his young Cats are playing decent basketball, but not winning basketball. Too many mistakes. Too many times of letting opponents back in games.

Then again, we just crossed into December. The season is still young. And while several first-year stars have figured prominently in the first month, don’t leave UK’s first-year star out of the conversation.

“I’ve had some really good practices and I’m starting to come around,” Knox said. “I think I’m playing really well, I’ve just got to keep it up.”

Kevin Knox game-by-game stats

Date

Opponent

MP

FG

FGA

3P

3PA

FT

FTA

O

D

R

PF

TP

A

TO

BS

ST

11/10/17

Utah Valley

37

3

13

1

4

5

6

2

4

6

3

12

4

2

1

4

11/12/17

Vermont

35

3

10

1

4

4

4

0

8

8

2

11

1

2

0

0

11/14/17

Kansas

37

8

13

3

6

1

2

2

5

7

0

20

0

1

1

2

11/17/17

ETSU

34

6

13

4

7

1

4

0

10

10

3

17

2

6

1

0

11/20/17

Troy

35

7

12

1

3

2

5

4

4

5

2

17

1

2

0

1

11/22/17

Fort Wayne

35

4

10

1

3

2

2

0

2

2

1

11

3

1

0

0

11/26/17

UIC

33

9

13

0

4

7

10

0

2

2

1

25

1

2

1

1

12/2/17

Harvard

36

7

13

2

7

4

4

2

5

7

2

20

1

3

1

1

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