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Remarkable rise of Tampa Catholic's Knox puts him in elite company

Tampa Catholic High School small forward Kevin Knox is ranked by ESPN as the No. 6 junior in the country. He averages a Tampa Bay-best 29.4 points.
Tampa Catholic High School small forward Kevin Knox is ranked by ESPN as the No. 6 junior in the country. He averages a Tampa Bay-best 29.4 points.
Published Jan. 31, 2016

TAMPA — Kevin Knox's stock has skyrocketed over the past six months to the point where the Tampa Catholic High School small forward is the main attraction.

His every move is followed on the basketball court — from awestruck fans to drooling college coaching icons. North Carolina's Roy Williams flew on a private jet to watch one of Knox's games in December. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski came to Tampa for a Crusaders game a week later.

"We average about two coaches a week, maybe more. It's hard to keep track," TC coach Don Dziagwa said.

It has been a remarkable transformation for Knox, who has gone from a 6-foot-4 freshman role player two years ago to a 6-foot-8 junior phenom. In fact, Knox was known more as a football recruit up until this season.

But after playing a pivotal role to help lead USA Basketball's under-16 national team to a title, Knox received plenty of accolades from recruiting gurus. Knox went from being unranked by most major recruiting services to a five-star athlete who is listed as the nation's sixth-best player in the 2017 class by ESPN.

His rapid growth — not just in size but in stature — has him on a path that could make him the greatest basketball player ever to come out of Tampa Bay.

"Is he the greatest ever?," Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon wondered about Knox. "Not yet, but he certainly is on the trajectory to be. His growth as a player from last year to this year is immeasurable."

Fenlon, in his 33rd season with the Terrapins, has had plenty of nationally ranked recruits. He coached Casey Sanders, who played in the McDonald's All-American Game in 1999 and went on to start for Duke in the 2001 national title game. Fenlon also has coached Juwan Durham, a 6-foot-10 senior forward who signed with Connecticut.

Fenlon said Knox has the same all-around skill set — great shooting range, fluid ball-handling, explosiveness — that his two stars possessed.

"Kevin, Juwan, Casey are incredibly versatile, which is something you do not often see in big men," Fenlon said.

Knox was blessed with athletic bloodlines. His father, Kevin, was a receiver for Florida State on its 1993 national championship team and was a sixth-round draft pick of the NFL's Buffalo Bills. His mother, Michelle, played volleyball for the Seminoles.

The ability to do so many things on the court, though, did not come naturally. Knox gave up playing football this year to concentrate full time on basketball. He said he worked specifically on his shooting and ball-handling in the past year.

"I just wanted to become a better player at everything," Knox said. "Someone who is a real tough matchup to guard."

It has helped Knox become a prolific scorer. He averages 29.4 points a game this season — second-best in the state. If he keeps pace with that average, he will shatter the school's all-time scoring record (2,042 points) next season.

But it is not just points. Knox also averages 11 rebounds and two blocked shots a game.

"Kevin can do pretty much everything," Dziagwa said.

Those numbers — and wide range of abilities — put him on the radar of college coaches. He now has 16 Division I offers, as well as plenty of national recognition.

The burden of going from relative obscurity to a media darling can be a great weight. But Knox has handled it by enlisting the help of his father to screen most requests.

"At first I liked the attention from the reporters and the recruiting services and everything else," Knox said. "But now it can be hard. I'm glad I have my father there to handle things so I can concentrate on playing and schoolwork."

Knox's performance and ranking make him a sure-fire nominee for next year's McDonald's All-American Game. He would join a select group of area participants that includes Sanders, Sickles' John Henson (2009), Boca Ciega's David White (1987) and Brandon's Dwayne Schintzius.

But is that enough to anoint him the greatest ever?

"The one thing he probably still needs to do is lead his team to the state final four," Fenlon said. "He hasn't gotten there — yet. But if he does, and goes on and wins a state title, that would help cement his legacy."

That is the glaring omission from Knox's already glittering resume. In his first two seasons, the Crusaders did not make it past the region semifinals. Tampa Catholic (21-4) has a chance to get there this season as the top seed in the Class 4A, District 9 tournament, which starts Tuesday.

"I want a ring just like every player in high school does," Knox said. "That's pretty much been my focus, more than the rankings or offers or individual stats."

If the Crusaders fall short, Knox can take solace in knowing he has another year to reach a title game.

And to continue to grow. After all, he now wears a size 18 sneaker.

"Kevin could end up being 6-10," Dziagwa said. "As far as his talent, he's just scratching the surface. It's pretty amazing to see how much he has improved in three years to get to where he is now.

"That's something I never could have projected."

Contact Bob Putnam at bputnam@tampabay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.