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Kevin Knox and UNC could be a mutually beneficial partnership

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In the end, Kevin Knox and UNC may need each other.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s have a chat. A nice, polite discussion if you will. I know that’s difficult in today’s internet age, but here goes....

UNC men’s basketball needs Kevin Knox.

Not in a desperate, “The sky is falling!”, Chicken Little kind of way. If Knox decides he wants to wear a different shade of blue next season, the Tar Heels will still be a tournament team. They will return plenty of experience and more than enough talent to remain relevant on the national scene. Tony Bradley, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson, and Joel Berry will likely enter the offseason as four of the five anticipated starters for next season.

However, as you know, a team needs five players on the court. While I’m hesitant to doubt Luke Maye as a legitimate ACC starter, he likely needs one more year before he makes that leap.

With Justin Jackson making a strong case to join former teammates Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the rafters, it’s increasingly likely that he will not return for his senior season. He very well may pull a Tyler Hansbrough, but UNC fans everywhere should prepare to hear his name called in the first round of the NBA draft this season. If you’re skeptical just look here, here, here, and here.

With Jackson’s departure likely, there appears to be playing time available at the small forward or power forward position. Depending on the lineup Roy Williams feels like rolling out, Knox would be a natural fit at either position. He is an explosive, efficient scorer who has steadily improved his three-point shooting. According to MaxPreps.com, Knox is making 35% of his shots from behind the arc this season. Add in stellar rebounding ability and a willingness to play lock-down defense, and Knox would potentially fill numerous gaps that will appear in UNC’s roster after this season.

Currently listed at 6-8 and 205 lbs at 247Sports, Knox has continued to rise up the rankings over the last few years. Boasting a 7-foot wing span, he has grown into a longer, more versatile athlete than some originally imagined. A consensus top-10 recruit, he would also be UNC’s first top-10 recruit since....Justin Jackson.

As with anything related to UNC recruiting, nothing is easy these days. In the current one-and-done environment, Knox is understandably eyeing the NBA after his freshman season. Whether or not he is truly a one-and-done talent is a conversation for a different time. For the sake of a fun argument polite discussion, let’s assume that a lottery pick in the summer of 2018 is in Knox’s future.

Fans of Duke and Kentucky (and Arizona, UCLA, Washington, and Kansas) all are probably asking “Why go to UNC?”

Those schools have made OAD’s prime targets in their recruiting strategies over the years. UNC has not had a one-year player since Brandan Wright in 2007, when Knox was eight years old.

Some of those schools, supposedly, allow young, athletic lottery picks to flourish in their systems. UNC’s system, perceivably, does not. Questioning a top-10 recruit’s desire to go to UNC is a fair question.

Just kidding. Sorry. I couldn’t even type that with a straight face.

I will not argue the merits of the OAD lifestyle. That is also for a different time. However, I would strongly suggest that UNC is the perfect landing spot for Knox.

Inarguably, Kevin Knox fills numerous needs on UNC’s roster. One of North Carolina’s biggest selling points is that “need”. That’s different, than say, a school that merely “wants” you. Maybe like Kentucky, that already has two other top-15 long, lengthy wing players like Jarred Vanderbilt and P.J. Washington.

It’s nice to feel “wanted”.

It’s also fun to play. A lot. At UNC, where he’s needed, Knox conceivably could approach 30 minutes a game. With that kind of playing time, he will get every possible opportunity to showcase his skills for the NBA.

Does that seem extreme? Maybe ludicrous? Doesn’t Roy’s system discriminate against freshman? Aren’t top talents stifled? Don’t the Heels reward experience over talent?

In two words: Hell. No.

Take the case of Justin Jackson. The guy that Kevin Knox would presumably replace. In 2014-15 as a freshman, he “only” played 26.7 minutes per game. Jackson started every game except Senior Night. Had he shot better than 47% and averaged more than 10.7 points per game, he may have left UNC after one year. He certainly had the opportunity to prove himself. Mostly because there was a need.

Why didn’t he have a better year? Because basketball is hard.

Well, that’s an anomaly. Right? Sure, if you don’t count Nate Britt’s 20.9 minutes per game in 2013-14. It’s ok. Take your time. Read that again. Nate played because he was needed.

For what it’s worth, he’s still needed. While his career has probably not been as productive as he would have hoped, he’s still playing a pivotal role on a legitimate championship contender.

Don’t forget Marcus Paige only averaged 29.2 minutes as a freshman in 2012-13. Was that a waste of a season. Was he not given ample opportunity to prepare him to earn an All-American nod the following year. Truthfully, had Marcus not battled injuries his junior year, which hurt his production,, he also would’ve been a potential lottery pick. I just hope Knox caught a glimpse of that jersey presentation on his official visit.

That 2011-2012 National Championship Elite Eight team? A team stacked with 4 lottery picks? Freshmen P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo still averaged double-digit minutes. In case you were wondering, there are not four lottery picks on next year’s team.

By this point, you may be rolling your eyes. None of those players are like Knox! Those are point guards, shooting guards, and more traditional post players! They fit “the system”! Knox can play five positions, so he won’t have a true role!

Ok fine. Let’s continue on.

How about 2010-2011? Harrison Barnes. 6 feet, 7 inches. 215 pounds. Similar skill set to Kevin Knox, without the length. Same position. Top recruit in the nation. Barnes averaged 29.4 minutes, 15.6 points, 5.6 rebounds.

Barnes easily would have been a lottery pick after his freshman year. He was still a lottery pick after his sophomore year. He was a starter on the NBA champion Warriors in 2015. Last off-season he signed a maxed out four-year, $95 million contract and won a gold medal in the Olympics. Playing at UNC was not exactly been detrimental to his basketball livelihood.

Maybe the best part of it all? If you are a top recruit, and you “unfortunately” have to come back to school for an additional year or two, UNC invests in your continued athletic development. If it turns out that you may need a little more time to grow, UNC doesn’t force you to transfer or ride the bench when the newest recruit comes on campus.

Is that what people mean when they say that Roy shows a preference to upperclassmen? Perhaps some fans would prefer that UNC focus on different (newer) players when a Tar Heel stumbles in their first or second year. That’s a a disconcerting thought.

North Carolina doesn’t move on from a prospect when he doesn’t initially work out. No, the Heels continue to value a player, even past the point of “needing” them. By investing in the continued growth, those players eventually become indispensable to the program. They also turn into NBA players.

Reggie Bullock, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and Brice Johnson can all attest to that. Isaiah Hicks may soon join them. In another year or two, Tony Bradley will add his name to that list.

Even Justin Jackson can claim a spot in that group. Jackson was valued within the program, and thus continued to improve his game. He improved so much that he now holds the school record for most three-point field goals in a season. Jackson’s efforts have him staring at the ACC POY and a possible All-American nomination. The NBA is next.

We could legitimately do this throughout Roy Williams’ tenure. The myths about his style and ability to develop top-notch talent are epic and asinine.

North Carolina plays freshman who:
1) are good and
2) fill a vital need

Kevin Knox Jr. fits both of those roles. I don’t know if he’s a one year talent, but I do know at North Carolina he will get every single opportunity to grow and prove himself.

At North Carolina, Knox will likely do it with a more veteran line-up than he’ll find down in Durham next season. He will certainly enjoy a better stable of point guards to get him the ball. At North Carolina, he will definitely have less competition for playing time than he would have in Lexington.

At North Carolina, if Knox does need an extra year to develop, he won’t get lost in a stable of up-and-coming recruits or the “next big thing”.

North Carolina needs Knox. They will value Knox. In the end, Knox may need North Carolina as well.