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UNC basketball: The ever-growing importance of recruiting Kevin Knox

As Kevin Knox’s decision is nearing, we take a look at how vital his commitment can be to the team on and off the court

High School Basketball: McDonald's All-American Portraits Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Knox II has been one of the most coveted high school recruits for some time now in the 2017 class. Last night North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, Missouri, and Florida State all had in-home visits with Knox in one last final push to win over the Tampa Bay resident, who is anticipated to soon make his final decision on where he will go to school this coming fall.

This recruiting journey for Knox has certainly been a long, interesting one. Knox was actually scheduled to make his decision around this time but ended up pushing back his decision a couple of weeks. This is understandable, as he was quite busy with some of the postseason all-star games that have taken place since his senior year at Tampa Catholic High School wrapped up.

At this point, the implications on what it would mean to obtain such a high talent sometimes get lost in translation of hype, and so the question is: What exactly does getting Kevin Knox to commit to UNC mean for the program? The short answer would be: more than maybe anybody can conceivably wrap their minds around if all the chips fall perfectly in place in Chapel Hill.

On The Court

Kevin Knox is a six-foot-eight, 205-pound Small Forward that managed to light up the stats sheet during his four years at Tampa Catholic. For his career, Knox averaged 23.2 points and 9.7 rebounds in 116 games. His freshman year was the only thing keeping him from averaging a double-double, as he only managed to pull down 6.4 rebounds that year. Knox loves to play in transition, and it is right now a big point of emphasis in the school that he chooses to attend. If you haven’t seen exactly what he does with the ball in transition, this video should give you a strong idea:

There has been a strong point of emphasis around Knox being able to come into UNC and replace Justin Jackson’s skill set, as Jackson declared recently for the NBA Draft. A lot of this is true, but the one thing that may set the two apart is Knox loves to finish at the rim. Justin Jackson definitely managed to do so at times during his career, there’s no doubt about that, but Knox is coming into the college level stronger than Jackson was his freshman year.

One thing worth noting from the McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic: Knox’s 3-point shot was atrocious for both games. Granted, these games aren’t to be taken too seriously in terms of getting a firm understanding of a player’s abilities, but it is something to keep an eye on for whichever school he ends up at. It’s not uncommon for players that are proficient shooting the 3 to get to the college level and have significant drop-offs their freshman year, so it will be something that Knox will want to work diligently on in the gym this summer so that he’s ready to shoot at a consistent level in the fall.

If Knox maintains his habits of wanting to finish plays above the rim, and manages to create plays at a high level like Jackson did this year, it will be fair to say that Jackson’s absence will not be as noticeable this coming fall should Knox make his way to UNC.

As it stands right now, UNC’s roster for next year is still a quite the question mark. Joel Berry II and Tony Bradley at the point and time this is being written still have not made their decisions as to whether or not they will enter the NBA Draft. I only really want to focus on a couple of potential line-ups for the Tar Heels, so if you want to see the various potential line-ups Andrew Carter with the News & Observer wrote a great article breaking down various line-up possibilities that we could be looking at for the 2017-18 season.

In an absolute best case scenario, Joel Berry II and Tony Bradley will go through the NBA draft process without an agent, return to school, and play one more year. Also, 4-star recruit Garrison Brooks will take Justin Jackson’s vacant scholarship and Kevin Knox will sign a letter of intent as well. This is the dream scenario in which fresh off of a National Championship, UNC could potentially find itself getting back to the Final Four if Knox and Brooks manage to find their footing at the college level quickly.

Another player who will be instrumental in another Final Four run will be Jalek Felton, nephew of former Tar Heel Raymond Felton. He is already committed to UNC for the fall, and should get a decent amount of minutes in rotation at the 2 spot.

Worst case scenario, assuming UNC gets Knox, is that Joel Berry, Tony Bradley, and Garrison Brooks are not in Carolina Blue uniforms in November. It is not ideal, but the team will by no means be a bad team. In fact, depending on how Seventh Woods’s development goes during the summer and how quickly the other freshman recruits manage to find their footing, UNC still has a strong shot at winning the ACC a third time.

The Final Four will be further out of reach than the optimal roster, but coming off of a National Championship, it is by no means a bad situation to be in. Kevin Knox alone pushes UNC’s recruiting class up to a top-10 level, and so it will be rare air for the Heels as far as recent recruiting history is concerned. Success will be very much dependent on just how fast the development process takes shape.

Off The Court

There really isn’t a more delicate way to put this, but UNC needs Kevin Knox because UNC needs Kevin Knox for reasons that are bigger than Kevin Knox as a player. Ever since the 2014 recruiting class, UNC has lost big recruit after big recruit after big recruit to the likes of Duke, Kentucky, amongst other schools. They even lost one to NC State (yes, Dennis Smith Jr was offered by UNC for those of you who do not remember).

A lot of this is because of the negative recruiting that programs have been able to utilize against UNC with the looming NCAA academic scandal. Even in the current situation where UNC’s basketball program wasn’t on the notice of allegations until a recent conflict of interest added it back to the notice, UNC has still had to attempt to convince recruits that their playing careers would be safe from the hands of the NCAA should they decide to play at Chapel Hill.

More importantly, while this is not something that is said out loud, parents want to make sure that their kids are actually attending legitimate classes and getting a good education while they’re in school. Yes one-and-dones are likely to make millions as lottery picks, but keep in mind that Kevin Knox also turned down a $1.4 million dollar deal to play overseas. He could’ve taken this route and eventually found himself in the NBA, but nevertheless he will be attending a school of his choice.

It is evident that even with OAD’s school does matter for some of them, and even after they go off to the league it’s not unheard of them continuing to finish their degrees. I could go into horror stories of players going broke after their NBA careers are over, but that is for another conversation.

Finally, should Kevin Knox decide to commit to UNC it would represent a strong amount of trust that a top prospect has in everything that Roy Williams has been telling recruits. He has told recruits that the NCAA shouldn’t do much, if anything, to the basketball program. This coming school year could very well be when we finally find out for sure.

It is worth noting that with the snail’s pace of the investigation, any punishment the NCAA hands down will not touch the 2017-18 team. Knox and his family are probably aware of this, but we all must take a moment and remember the situation with Brandon Ingram. Knox committing to UNC may just be what the program needs to show other potential recruits that it’s safe to go into the Carolina Blue water.

Kevin Knox is supposed to make a decision by the end of this month, or possibly the first week of May. Time will tell whether or not Knox will be the most important commit that UNC has gotten in the past five years, or if he we will see him suit up elsewhere for the 2017-18 season. UNC is in a good position to win him over, so let’s hope this final push will be enough to get a player who could make UNC another strong national championship contender.