When Kevin Knox announced his college decision on Saturday night, it hardly came as a shock that his school of choice wears blue. For a pair of Tobacco Road fanbases, however, the specific shade of blue was a bit of a surprise.
Knox revealed on social media that he will play his college ball at Kentucky. While a one-and-done hopeful picking the Wildcats is nothing new, Duke and North Carolina both going down to the wire for a top-10 prospect only to miss out is.
With Knox headed to the SEC, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels both have holes to fill. Here is how the decision impacts each of the two rivals:
If public speculation had been the determining factor in Knox’s close-to-the-vest recruitment, perhaps the Devils would have won out. Between Duke’s successful track record of producing one-and-dones, the playing time the team had to offer on the wing, and Knox’s numerous trips from hometown Tampa to Durham, it wasn’t hard to envision him playing for Mike Krzyzewski.
At 6-foot-8 and 195 pounds, Knox possessed the measurables to be a natural fit at Duke’s hybrid forward spot. In recent years, Krzyzewski has struck gold with such players; from Jabari Parker, to Justise Winslow, to Brandon Ingram, to Jayson Tatum, the Blue Devils have had no problem breeding NBA talent in that area.
But with Knox picking Kentucky, Duke is in a bind as it figures out the 2017-18 puzzle. Rising sophomore Jack White could take on the role of small-ball 4, but he’s unproven. The coaching staff may also decide to lean on bigger lineups with four true frontcourt players — centers Marques Bolden and Antonio Vrankovic, and forwards Wendell Carter and Javin DeLaurier — on the roster.
While the Tar Heels have struggled to reel in top-10 talent over the last half-decade, the conditions to land Knox were about as close to perfect as possible. If Knox wanted to know how he’d fit into UNC’s system, he could just look at ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson. When Knox took his official visit to Chapel Hill, College GameDay was in town as Carolina thumped then-No. 14 Virginia, 65-41; Jackson dropped 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting while logging six assists and four rebounds.
It couldn’t have hurt that Jackson had a front-row seat two weeks later when the Heels took down Duke with Michael Jordan in the building. And, of course, UNC was able to pitch its latest national championship in the late stages.
None of that was enough, though.
By missing on Knox, North Carolina lost an opportunity re-establish itself as a go-to destination for elite high school players. On the court, the Tar Heels will once again be counting on older players to make leaps.
In this scenario, those older players include Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye. With Knox bound for Kentucky, UNC’s current roster makeup will allow Williams to reclaim his starting spot at shooting guard, Pinson to slide over to the 3 and Maye to join the starting lineup as a stretch 4.
That trio offers plenty of experience. However, it’s unlikely that any of those three players can match Jackson’s scoring ability from last season, so defense will be even more of a priority next season.
Outlook for Knox
Isaiah Briscoe and Malik Monk split the vast majority of minutes at small forward for Kentucky this past season. With those two departing for the NBA, Knox — in a way — has a path to immediate playing time in Lexington.
Two other heralded newcomers, though, will compete for those minutes as well. Wildcat signees Jarred Vanderbilt (No. 11) and P.J. Washington (No. 14) also sit high in 247Sports’ composite rankings, and both fit the same combo-forward mold.
Knox will need to beat out his competition in order to play regularly. If he does that, he might be hearing his name called in the NBA Draft sooner rather than later.