BJ Johnson remembers exactly where he was the first time Kevin Knox caught his eye. The assistant director of USA Basketball was in Houston for a spring stop on Nike's EYBL tour looking for players to round out the program's U16 team. Johnson settled in to watch Each 1 Teach 1, the same Florida-based collective that produced Ben Simmons a year earlier and D'Angelo Russell one season before that.
His eyes gravitated toward a long and raw 15-year-old who couldn't be found in recruiting rankings and was clearly still growing into his body.
"There are a lot of good scorers in the EYBL, but sometimes you get drawn to guys that impact the game in so many different ways," Johnson said. "We saw him rebounding and hustling and just making tough plays. That kept on sticking out to us.
"At his size, we felt like what's the worst that can happen?"
The way Knox tells it, he was the last player invited to Colorado Springs for a tryout. He went on to make the U16 team, fly out to Argentina and start four of five games on the way to a gold medal for the United States. Johnson glows thinking back to a clutch three-pointer Knox hit in the championship game against Canada. Along the way, he entered ESPN's recruiting rankings for the first time at No. 45.
By the next update, Knox had risen all the way to No. 6 and solidified his five-star status.
The scariest thing about Kevin Knox's origin story is that it's not even close to being complete. He doesn't turn 17 years old until August and already stands 6'9 with a 7-foot wingspan and a size-18 shoe. He's grown two inches every year since entering high school and isn't finished yet. Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina have each offered and told him he's a priority on the wing.
All this for a player who is solely focusing on basketball for the first time in his life.
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(Credit: USA Basketball)
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Kevin Knox always had the bloodlines. His father was a wide receiver on Florida State's 1994 national championship team and a sixth-round NFL draft pick. His mother played volleyball for the Seminoles.
Knox was destined to be a great athlete from the start. He just didn't know which sport it would be in.
Knox enrolled at Tampa Catholic as a high school freshman mostly known as a quarterback. At 6'4, he had NFL size for the position at 13 years old. He started on varsity as a sophomore and was considered an ESPN top 150 recruit as an "athlete." He says he can throw a football 65 or 70 yards.
The only thing working against Knox's football career is that he just kept growing.
"At the end of the day, it's about physical dimensions," his father Kevin Knox Sr., an assistant coach with Each 1 Teach 1, told SB Nation. "Peyton Manning is 6'6. Cam Newton is 6'5. You don't have too many 6'8 QBs. He's still 16 years old. He'll probably be 6'10 with a size 19 or 20 shoe. That doesn't necessarily equate to a quarterback in the NFL, but those dimensions do translate to a possible NBA player."
Knox made the decision to give up football for good as a junior. It's looking like an increasingly smart choice.
Knox's final season of grassroots ball is just beginning, but he's already acing the transition from a role player to a star. After averaging 8.5 points per game last year, he put up 21.7 points and seven rebounds at the first circuit stop of the season in Brooklyn.
At stop No. 2 in Indiana this past weekend, Knox posted 25 points and 13 rebounds against Boo Williams and 24 points against Houston Hoops in a marquee matchup with fellow five-star wing Jarred Vanderbilt.
This is all happening so fast that it's easy for the mind to start to wonder. Knox is clearly one of the best runners and jumpers in the class of 2017. Now he's slowly developing into one of the best basketball players, too.
"Every coach has told me I'm positionless," Knox told SB Nation. "They want me to play an all around type of game. I can play pretty much 1-5."
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Knox's strengths as a player stand in contrast with the worst assumptions people make about grassroots basketball. AAU is supposed to be defined by a carefree, relentlessly uptempo style where athletes play for themselves, not the team. Knox is different. He hasn't forgotten what made him appealing to USA Basketball from the start: his defense and hustle plays.
"It's not always fun," Knox said of accepting the role of a shutdown defender. "It burns inside to play defense. But you have to keep working and eventually defense is something you get used to."
Knox understands there's never been a better time for jumbo wings with elite athleticism. Five years ago, a player with his build might have been considered a tweener. Now most coaches will look at him as an oversized ball of quick twitch muscles who can switch any pick-and-roll, make a killing in transition and hit a spot-up three-pointer.
"I like to watch a lot of Kevin Durant, Brandon Ingram and Giannis Antetokounmpo," Knox said. "Those tall lanky wings that can handle the ball and shoot it."
Knox has a long way to go until he becomes that type of player, but he's identified the right role models. Like Ingram and Durant, Knox is much younger than most of his peers. He has the benefit of time on his side.
It's impossible to know what Kevin Knox could one day become because he's still growing into himself as a person and a basketball player. It's been a whirlwind 12 months that saw him pick a sport, find his niche and go from an unheralded recruit to the most coveted wing in the country. Whatever comes next, he won't be sneaking up on anyone anymore.