“Nobody works harder than the Knoxs.”
As Kevin Knox Sr. reflected on his family motto and how it would fit in with a revamped Knicks coaching staff, he couldn't help but think back to when he first met the Kentucky assistant coach that espoused that very same mentality.
Kenny Payne, according to Knox Sr., was a considerable factor in why young Kevin decided to attend Kentucky in the first place. And he couldn't be happier to have him back coaching his oldest son.
"The trust. The accountability. Being able to motivate. Those are some of the things that my wife and I had as a part of our family when Kevin was in high school." Knox Sr. told Knicks SI over the phone this week when we chatted about the New York's recent hires. "We found someone [at Kentucky] that encompassed our own internal family values and coach Kenny Payne did a good job of delivering through that."
Payne, who the Knox's refer to as Coach KP, was a presence in Kevin's life even before he first stepped foot in Lexington as a student. "Coming from high school, through the recruiting process, Coach Cal and Coach KP were heavily involved."
Knox Sr., who was a wide receiver on the Florida State team quarterbacked by former Knick point guard Charlie Ward, wanted to make sure that the discipline he and his wife instilled at home would remain just as present in college. "When people start talking about family, you think about your inner circle – your mom, your dad, your brothers, your sisters - and then when we went to Kentucky, and that’s one of the reasons we chose Kentucky, we really felt that Coach Kenny Payne and Cal were an extension of our family."
Kevin's time at Kentucky was brief, but thanks in part to Payne's tutelage, he improved enough over the course of that time to go from a projected mid-first round selection to a top-ten pick.
It has now been a little over two years since the Knicks took a chance on the 18-year-old who entered the league as its youngest player, and while his first two seasons haven't gone exactly as planned, his father thinks the best is yet to come. Part of that is due to Payne, who Knox Sr. is "excited" to see join the coaching staff, but a bigger part is due to the man in charge.
"I think that Thibodeau is going to hold Kevin accountable, and even more importantly, Coach Thibs is going to hold his staff accountable to hold the players accountable for their actions on the court."
In calling Thibodeau "the right guy" for the job, Knox Sr. doesn't mind the perception of his demanding style one bit. "We love that because that’s something that Kevin has grown up in." He cites the head coach's famous work ethic as one reason why his son will only prosper under the Knicks new regime. He also thinks Thibs' uncompromising emphasis on defense will be a plus.
"He came a long way from his rookie year to being the second leading shot blocker on the team. I think you would have seen even more of a leap with more playing time. He likes to play the game the right way." Knox Sr. believes that if Kevin is given another chance to show the fruits of the family motto in action, the Knicks won't be disappointed. "You give this kid an opportunity to develop, you’ll like what you see. You just have to have patience."
Will that development happen in New York? Leon Rose's initial comments on Knox were that he was "looking forward to working with" the Knicks' third year forward, but we've also heard that there will be a somewhat immediate attempt to upgrade the roster.
Even if that imperative is true, New York would be wise to hang onto a talented and hard-working player who just turned 21 years old. Knox has had his struggles, but has shown enough promise to warrant more patience, especially now that the coach he blossomed under in college is in the building. If it's up to his father, Kevin won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
"We love New York, we love the fans, and we really, really love management and the direction they went to hire the head coach, the assistant coach and the direction that they’re going."
A lot of Knicks fans, for the moment at least, would seem to agree.