LEXINGTON, Ky. — So just how stunning was 5-star forward Kevin Knox’s commitment to Kentucky on Saturday evening? Even the Wildcats coaching staff had no idea it was coming.
“They found out when the world found out,” his father, Kevin Knox Sr., told SEC Country. “They found out on Twitter. I would imagine all five schools were waiting to find out the results.”
The other finalists were Missouri, North Carolina, Duke and Knox Sr.’s alma mater, Florida State. The Blue Devils and Seminoles seemed most likely to land the 6-foot-8 McDonald’s All-American as his decision, which was announced via social media, drew near.
“You had the Twitter world on the edge of their seats,” his father said, laughing, “but I don’t think Kentucky followers were as convinced he would pick them.”
It was such a joyful surprise that Wildcats assistant coach Kenny Payne, Knox’s lead recruiter, could not immediately talk to the family.
“He texted and was like, ‘I can’t talk right now’ — and he put a little smiley face with a tear — ‘I’m so emotional, I’m crying.’ Then he was able to call like 10 minutes later.”
Coach John Calipari, who cannot comment publicly until Knox signs a letter of intent, posted a video of himself making celebratory spins on a hoverboard.
“That was unbelievable,” Knox Sr. said. “Oh, by the way, with his wife right there to catch him so he doesn’t make a Mike Tyson GIF out of it.”
While the final announcement was a shock to most of the college basketball world, it makes plenty of sense when you hear Knox’s father break down the decision.
“Obviously we had a criteria for all the schools and a lot of the schools basically hit the check mark, but when you talk about amplifying those criteria, it was Kentucky who basically always seemed like they were on steroids for the criteria we had,” Knox Sr. told SEC Country. “All the schools develop great players, but we just thought that Kentucky developed their players a little bit better.”
Per usual, Payne developed an early, close relationship with the Knox family and never gave up on landing him — and Calipari closed the deal.
“We have a motto for our family: Nobody works harder than the Knoxes. And I saw a person [in Payne] who was as if I was looking in the mirror,” Knox Sr. said. “The way he recruits and coaches and teaches and motivates, those things were very congruent to Kevin’s dad and the motto that we have in our house.”
And what about Calipari’s pitch? What is so enticing that eight top 100 players, six 5-stars and five McDonald’s All-Americans have already picked Kentucky in the Class of 2017 — with another potential 5-star addition on the way?
Knox Sr., who played football for a coaching legend at Florida State in the 1990s, explained:
“Coach Cal says, ‘Hey, look, I’ve developed a system here. I’ve developed an organization that is going to make your son better and reach his goals, reach his dreams, and make him the best possible player he can be.’ OK, well what’s that, Coach Cal? ‘Well, 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. And not to mention myself as a foundation, who is going to help your son navigate the teenage years into manhood.’ 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. We felt very comfortable that Coach Cal was the Bobby Bowden in this situation.”
So that’s how Kentucky added its most coveted member of the class so far. And it might be how the Wildcats ultimately land 7-footer Mohamed Bamba, the No. 2 player in 2017, who seems to be down to Duke, Texas and Kentucky — but is keeping his recruitment just as close to the vest as Knox. But Knox Sr. might have some insight on more good news coming.
“Kevin and Bamba definitely have similar personalities. It’s safe to say no one really knew where Kevin was going, and you guys have no idea basically where Bamba is going,” he said. “Kevin and Bamba talk 5 of 7 days a week. So who knows? I just know Bamba really likes Kevin; Kevin likes Bamba. I think it would be really great for them to play together. So we just gotta see how that conversation goes over the next couple of weeks.”