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Kevin Knox to Knicks makes NBA history locally

More than a year ago, Kevin Knox stepped across the stage at the Straz Center to receive his high school diploma.

On Thursday, the former Tampa Catholic star was on basketball's biggest stage as he fulfilled his lifelong goal of making the NBA.

Knox was among a handful of hopeful players who sat in the audience at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Once the 6-foot-9 forward heard his name, he rejoiced before donning a Knicks cap and shaking hands with commissioner Adam Silver as New York's first-round pick.

Taken ninth overall, Knox made history, becoming the highest NBA draft pick in Tampa Bay history.

RELATED: Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay's highest NBA draft pick

Knox also got a dose of how hostile New York can be. Many of the hometown team's fans in attendance booed the choice, chanting Missouri standout Michael Porter Jr.'s name, the preferred pick.

That did nothing to wipe the wide grin off the 18-year-old small forward's face.

"I like that, it's motivation," Knox said on ESPN of the crowd's reaction. "I heard them say they wanted Porter. I'm ready to work, to get to the organization and win some games."

"They booed (Kristaps) Porzingis and look where he's at now," he said of the Knicks' All-Star forward. "They can chant Michael Porter all they want; they got Kevin Knox."

Growing up, Knox often stared at a cork board on his bedroom wall filled with goals and motivational sayings. He also listed goals, nearly all of which had been checked off. He was Florida's Mr. Basketball and a McDonald's All-American in high school.

Knox took the cork board with him to Kentucky last season.

There was one goal left: the NBA.

RELATED: Kevin Knox's lifelong push for the pros

But it was not just enough to reach the pros. Knox wanted to do it as a one-and-done — players who declare for the draft after their freshman year of college.

That was a big reason why Knox became a Wildcat. Kentucky coach John Calipari is known for his ability to turn freshmen into first-round picks.
Knox's selection continues Calipari's 11-year streak of producing a top-10 draft pick.

After declaring for the draft in April, Knox spent the past two months working with NBA skills coach Akii Dean and others to prepare for workouts. Dean also worked with Jonathan Isaac, the Magic's first-round pick last year.

"Kevin shot up draft boards because he's athletic and can shoot for his size," Dean said. "He also was able to show off ball-handling skills, something he has really worked on.

"Kevin will thrive because there is so much space to work with in the NBA."

Knox worked out for every team with picks Nos. 6 through 12. He had a second workout on Tuesday with the 76ers, who had the 10th selection.

He did not last that long.

The Knicks, who were pegged to take Knox in many mock drafts, did just that.

Knox shook hands with a few kids as he made his way onto the stage.

Afterward, he said he wanted to meet filmmaker Spike Lee, arguably the Knicks' most famous fan.

Tampa Catholic coach Don Dziagwa watched the draft at home. Earlier in the day, he was conducting a youth camp and told players about Knox and his meteoric rise to become a lottery pick.

"It's pretty cool," Dziagwa said. "It's a big day for the school and the basketball program. I don't know if anyone could have predicted this when he was a freshman at Tampa Catholic.

"And now, here he is a year after graduating high school and he's in the NBA. That's pretty remarkable."

Knox is the sixth player from a Tampa Bay high school to be drafted in the first round. The others: Brandon's Joey Graham (No. 16 overall, 2005), Brandon's Jeff Turner (No. 17, 1984), Brandon's Dwayne Schintzius (No. 24, 1990), Admiral Farragut's Marreese Speights (No. 16, 2008) and Sickles' John Henson (No. 14, 2012).

Contact Bob Putnam at [email protected] Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.

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