LEXINGTON, Ky. — If the Yahoo Sports report and subsequent university review of his alleged contact with an unscrupulous agent were weighing heavy on Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox’s mind Saturday night, he hid it well.
Knox scored a team-high 21 points in just 23 minutes against Missouri and led the Wildcats to their third consecutive impressive victory, 88-66 over the Tigers. Rupp Arena roared for him as he hit 6 of 13 shots from the field and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line.
That was surely a welcome relief after the week he’s had — or maybe not, to hear Knox tell it.
“I’ve just been blocking everything out,” he said Saturday night after the win. “That’s what Cal trained me for, what my dad’s trained me for my whole life: just to block everything out, all the negative stuff, and just be able to play your game.”
Knox said he woke Friday morning to news of the Yahoo report in a text message and then a phone call from his father. In the report, Christian Dawkins, runner for powerful agent Andy Miller, lists Knox as a college prospect (among many) with whom he met and/or shared a meal.
Yahoo reporter Pat Forde, who broke the story, was at Rupp Arena on Saturday night and asked Knox if he recalls a dinner in his hometown of Tampa, Fla., with Dawkins.
“I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about the win [Saturday night],” Knox said, repeating that line any time a reporter pressed for information on Dawkins or the process by which he was cleared to play Saturday.
Knox said his father “just told me to make sure I’m focused — focus on the game, focus on your game — and that’s what I did. I was never nervous. I trusted Kentucky, trusted the media [relations] people, trusted compliance, let them handle all of it. I slept well at night, knowing I was going to be able to play, and I just came out [Saturday night] aggressive.”
Knox found out Saturday morning from Kentucky’s compliance department that his eligibility was not in jeopardy and he could play against the Tigers.
During the roughly 24 hours of uncertainty about his status, Cats coach John Calipari told Knox to “stay focused, don’t talk to nobody about nothing, get in the gym, work all this out, don’t focus on none of it, focus on your teammates, talk to your teammates, focus on the film. He said, ‘This is a big game for you.’ ”
Knox played one of his worst games of the season in the first meeting with the Tigers in Columbia, Mo., on Feb. 3. After the former McDonald’s All-American visited Mizzou as a recruit, teasing a partnership with 5-star Tigers freshman Michael Porter Jr., fans there booed him every time he touched the ball in that game.
He was 2-for-or 6 shooting, 1-for-3 at the line, and had just 5 points and 3 rebounds in a loss.
“They gave us a good one at their place,” said Knox, who averages 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. “We just wanted to make sure we gave them payback for what they did to us. We 20-pieced them [Saturday night].”
After losing four straight, Kentucky (20-9, 9-7 SEC) has beaten top-50 opponents Alabama, Arkansas (away) and Missouri by double digits, effectively punching its NCAA Tournament ticket and likely improving its seed line significantly.
Losing Knox would’ve been a major blow — and Yahoo’s report linking him to a meeting or meal with an agent raised questions about impermissible benefits — but that doesn’t seem likely now.
In a statement Saturday morning, the school said that it “immediately reviewed the matter and, based on the available information, determined that there were no eligibility issues or rules violations for any current student-athletes or staff related to Friday’s report. Kentucky will continue to work diligently with both the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference.”
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