Many of the players that heard their name called Thursday night at the NBA Draft used words such a surreal, blessed, humbled and speechless to describe the experience.
At Barclays Center that evening was Michael Thomas, Knox’s maternal grandfather. On April 4, 2016 Knox posted this message on his Twitter account:
Grandpa is CANCER FREE🙏🏽🙏🏽
— Kev (@KevKnox) April 4, 2016
Grandpa is Thomas, who got to see his grandson drafted, something no one in the family was sure would happen three years ago.
“That was a rough time for my family but we got through it,’’ Knox said.
The Knox’s have had experience dealing with rough times.
Kevin’s uncle, Major Raymond G. Estelle II, who served 19 years in the Air Force, was killed in Afghanistan on April 27, 2011. It’s the sacrifice made by Estelle II that motivated Knox when he helped Team USA win gold at 2015 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship.
“My family is big on representing my country,’’ said Knox.
Knox, who was 11 when Estrelle II was killed, said he plays for his uncle, who he believes is looking down on him, and his grandfather, who is still by his side.
The loss of Estrelle and Thomas’s victory over cancer made Thursday night an epic and emotional celebration for the Knox family.
“For both the parents, for the whole family, this is a very special moment,’’ said Kevin’s father, Kevin Knox Sr. “They raised Kevin just like we did. It takes a village to raise a child. And everybody has had an opportunity to impart some of their growing up morals to little Kevin.
“It’s a very special time for the Knox family as well the Thomas family and so we’re just really excited about this moment and hopefully we can continue to accomplish some other things as well – like a championship.’’
That’s the lesson learned from Thomas, who is in his late 70’s. When adversity strikes, you can wilt or fight. Thomas, Knox’s mother Michelle’s father, fought and won.
The Thomas family lives in Raleigh, which is about a 10-hour drive from the Knox’s home in Tampa. The Knox family made the trip as often as possible because nothing is more important than family.
“All the work he had to go through to get cancer free, he inspires me all the time,’’ said Knox. “He’s pretty old, but he still does everything around the house. You look at him, you would think he’s way younger than what he is. He still interacts with his garden, he goes to church all the time. Great man.’’
The Knicks are hoping for great things from Knox, a 6-9 forward who averaged 15.6 points in his freshman season at Kentucky. Coach David Fizdale said he has no hesitation starting the rookie if he earns the spot.
Knicks head coach David Fizdale shares what he sees in draft picks Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, what they need to work on and expectations for their rookie seasons.
One thing is certain, Knox won’t back down from the challenge.
It’s the lesson he learned from Estrelle and Thomas. It’s the fortitude Knox developed playing at Kentucky, which has the most fervent fan base in college hoops. And it’s the reason he secretly hoped he’d be drafted by the Knicks because, what did Sinatra sing?
“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.’’
“He wanted to be at Kentucky,” Fizdale said. “That’s a tough place to go into and say I’m going to flourish at this place. You have to have a certain type of attitude, a certain confidence, a certain competitive edge to want that. And right from the beginning, this kid wanted to be a Knick.
“I’m crazy enough because I can relate. I asked to be a Knick.
“To ask for that, you have to be a certain type of competitor. But you also have to understand there is a history involved and there is something great on the other side if you do it the right way. So the fact that he wanted that and embraced that tells me a lot about who he is.”
Knox is a young man inspired by the fight and sacrifice of his family members. It’s a story many New Yorkers can relate to. And it’s the reason why no one should bet against Hard Knox making it here.