LEXINGTON, Ky. — Naturally, the story of how 5-star basketball recruit Kevin Knox ended up at Kentucky is about cookies and football.
Back in April, no one expected Knox to pick the Wildcats, mainly because he was a versatile, 6-foot-9 forward and they were already loaded on versatile, 6-9 forwards. But then Knox went to the McDonald’s All-American game and UK commits Quade Green, Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington and Nick Richards went to work on him.
They made him the famous BBN cookies, which Knox declined to eat — an egregious snub that even further convinced fans he was headed elsewhere — because Richards made a mess of the icing. That actually did help lure him.
“That was kind of creative. That was kind of funny,” Knox said. “A lot of people say, ‘Why would you come here if they got a lot of players already?’ But just seeing them recruiting me even after they got all those people, it was great to see. I loved the way they recruited me.”
See, those other 5-stars knew Knox could be the final piece to put this 2017-18 Kentucky team over the top. Vanderbilt stood to lose the most, individually, if Knox came to Lexington. And yet, he led the charge to get him here.
“I was on him all week,” Vanderbilt said. “We made him feel like we really wanted him here. We made him feel like this is the place to be.”
So did a Kentucky assistant coach who is famous for his ability to sweet-talk star prospects: football recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow, of course.
Marrow, who seems to know everyone, played for the Buffalo Bills in 1994 — when that NFL franchise drafted a wide receiver from Florida Stat, Kevin Knox Sr. Years later, as his son emerged as a prized recruit in a different sport, the old friends reunited.
When the younger Knox came on his basketball official visit to Kentucky, “My dad said he wanted to go to the football field,” Knox said. “So we went over and I’m like, ‘Why are we over here? I play basketball. I don’t play football no more.’ He’s like, ‘I’m going to see a friend.’ I met [Marrow] and of course he gave his whole speech.
“He definitely has a great sense of humor, he’s real funny, really connects with kids, and that’s something he did with me instantly.”
Marrow might’ve had the chance to recruit Knox for football if he hadn’t outgrown the game. He won the starting quarterback job as a sophomore at Tampa (Fla.) Catholic, but he had size 18 feet by the end of that school year.
“Peyton Manning doesn’t wear a size 18,” Knox Sr. told him, and that was the end of football.
This basketball thing is probably going to work out, though, as he’s now 6-9 with a 7-foot wingspan, 36 ½-inch vertical leap and an ability to dribble, pass and shoot better than most his size.
“He might be our best shooter,” said coach John Calipari, who has called him a guard in a power forward’s body. “He’s good.”
Potential lottery pick good, in fact. Good enough to eventually make his father the second-most accomplished athlete in the family. Knox Sr. caught 42 passes for 575 yards and 7 touchdowns on Bobby Bowden’s 1993 national championship team at FSU before being drafted.
“So he knows what it takes to get there,” said the son. “He tells me a lot of things every day: keep my circle small, keep the right mentality. He’s helping me create my path.”
Picking the right coach is part of that path, and that’s where football comes back into this basketball story.
“As a dad, you want to pass the baton to a person you trust. My parents passed the baton to Bobby Bowden, who is near and dear to my heart,” Knox Sr. said. “We felt very comfortable that Coach Cal was the Bobby Bowden in this situation.”
But they didn’t let Calipari — or anyone — know that until his surprise commitment on May 6, Kentucky Derby Day, when the world least expected any kind of college basketball news. By that time, nearly every recruiting guru was predicting Duke or North Carolina for Knox.
“I kept everyone in the dark,” he said. “The only two people who knew were my mom and dad. My grandparents didn’t know, my brother didn’t know. It was just us three.”
So how did Calipari win them over? By laying out a plan that has led Kentucky to four Final Fours, two title games and a national championship in his eight seasons — during which time 31 Wildcats have been drafted.
“I’ve got an offensive system that suits him, I’ve got a defensive system that suits him, we play very fast and I have a coaching staff that teaches at a high level those three things,” he told the family. “And not to mention myself as a foundation, who is going to help your son navigate the teenage years into manhood.”
That was all both Kevin Knoxes needed to hear. Bowden had made a similar pitch a quarter century ago, and this is the story of a son trying to replicate his father’s football success on a basketball court.
“Cal, he really connects with his guys. All the players in the [NBA], they always come back. They still stay in touch,” said the son. “Bobby Bowden and my dad, they stayed in touch for a long time. Hopefully me and Cal can have that relationship one day.”
More 2017-18 Kentucky previews
- Freshman PG Quade Green already leading young Cats
- Teammates: Hamidou Diallo can dominate … if he wants to
- Wenyen Gabriel is a fighter, and UK needs him to be
- What the Wildcats will miss while Jarred Vanderbilt is out
- John Calipari sees 2014 Cats, good and bad, in this team
- Full 6,500-word Calipari preseason Q&A
- Players vote on Cats’ best dunker and best shooter
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