Barry Brown Jr., Kevin Knox II square off in Sweet 16

Barry Brown of Kansas State lays up a shot against the UMBC Retrievers during the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Barry Brown of Kansas State lays up a shot against the UMBC Retrievers during the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Published March 21 2018
Updated March 21 2018

Kansas State's Barry Brown Jr. and Kentucky's Kevin Knox II are former local stars who each led their high school programs to state semifinal appearances.

Brown did it with Gibbs in 2015. Knox led Tampa Catholic on two straight trips (2016-17).

Now, they have a chance to reach the NCAA Final Four.

The first obstacle will be to beat each other.

Brown and Knox, who both play key roles, square off in Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup in Atlanta. It is the first time they have played against each other at any level of basketball.

There will be a large cheering section with parents, siblings, even grandparents of both players attending the game.

"It's a cool story," said Kevin Knox Sr.

The one connection Brown and Knox did have in high school was their offseason travel organization. Both played for Each1Teach1 but were never on the same team.

Knox Sr. said he went with his son to watch Brown play once.

"Barry was on a great travel team that included Ben Simmons (top overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft)," Knox Sr said. "Barry was really good, too."

Basketball was a prominent theme in the childhood of both players. Brown Jr. and Knox II were each raised with a steady diet of fundamentals. By the time they were 5, they were playing in recreational leagues. By 7, they were in Amateur Athletic Union tournaments, often in older age brackets.

Brown Jr. used to work on perfecting right-handed layups in the driveway with his father before he was in elementary school.

"We were out there forever, well past 11 p.m.," Brown Jr. said four years ago. "I couldn't get it down. I kept using the wrong foot to plant. I'm crying. I'm wanting to quit. But my dad wouldn't let me stop until I got it right. And I kept going."

In first grade, Knox II played in a championship basketball game at the Brandon YMCA. Dad pulled out all the stops, urging everyone he knew to attend. More than 300 people showed up.

RELATED: NBA or bust: Kevin Knox's lifelong push for the pros

Brown Jr. and Knox II tried playing other sports. Both excelled at football.

But nothing compared to basketball.

In high school, they became polished players.

Still, their path to college stardom took decidedly different paths.

Brown Jr. was a three-star recruit who had a handful of offers from schools such as Florida Gulf Coast, Providence, Texas A&M and Wichita State. The Wildcats came through late and Brown Jr. committed in the fall of his senior season four years ago.

In three years, Brown Jr. has transformed into one of the Wildcats' top scorers. He's averaging 16.1 points this season, second on the team.

"I couldn't be more proud of what Barry has been able to accomplish," Brown Sr. said.

Knox II, meanwhile, was a five-star recruit, a McDonald's All-American and was selected "Mr. Florida" as the state's top high school player last season.

He had offers from nearly every major college. In May, he signed with Kentucky, joining their heralded freshman class.

This season could be Knox II's last in college if he decides to declare for the NBA draft. It has been an impressive debut. Knox II leads the team in scoring with 15.2 points per game and has already been selected as the SEC co-freshman of the year.

Kevin Knox of Kentucky drives to the basket against Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

For the families, it has been an exhilarating run through the NCAA tournament.

And it could happen again in a few more years.

After all, Brown Jr. and Knox II have younger brothers who just finished their sophomore seasons in high school.

RELATED: Oh brother: Three younger siblings of college stars seek success of their own in basketball

Thursday's games

South Region
No. 11 Loyola (Chi) vs. No. 7 Nevada, 7:07 TV: CBS
No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 5 Kentucky, 9:37 TV: CBS

West Region
No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 Michigan, 7:37 TV: TBS
No. 9 Florida State vs. No. 4 Gonzaga, 10:07 TV: TBS