David Fizdale has a reputation as a players coach, but he clearly is demanding of his team, too, from a conditioning test that challenged players to declaring every starting job up for grabs.
But for Kevin Knox and Tim Hardaway Jr., nothing the coach can demand will be as honest and urgent as the lessons they got growing up in their own homes. Knox, like Hardaway Jr., grew up with a father who was a professional athlete, and one who didn’t hesitate to let him know what it took to get there.
Kevin Knox Sr. was a sixth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills and played one season in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals. His biggest stage came as a senior wide receiver for Florida State, a key part of the Seminoles' 1993 national championship squad.
“He just knows what it takes to get to the highest level,” Knox said of his father. “He’s been under this pressure. He’s played in the national championship game, big-time winning teams. He knows that pressure, what it takes as far as winning, being that young.
“He was a senior in college when he played in the national championship game so he was young for that big environment. He just knows what you’ve got to do to get there, the hard work that you put in to get to that level.”
The son has reached a level the father never did, selected by the Knicks in the first round with the No. 9 overall pick. But those lessons — sometimes loudly delivered — help in times like these, being a 19-year-old rookie with massive expectations on the big stage of Madison Square Garden.
And it helps when the natural growing pains come. Knox has struggled with his shot through the preseason, connecting on just 34.9 percent from the floor and missing 11 consecutive three-pointers before finally draining one in the final minute of Monday’s loss to the Wizards. But he has been thrown into the fire by Fizdale, playing more minutes than anyone else on the roster.
“Yeah, like Fiz says, I’m just trying to do too much,” Knox said. “I’m trying to go 100 miles per hour. He really just wants me to slow down, play smart, just look at the whole court and make the right play. i think right now it’s going so fast, messing up everything I’m trying to do.
“I’m not worried about no pressure. Me and Fiz talked, first couple of games at Madison Square Garden, just got to get used to it. Trying to adapt to the environment, the NBA game. I’m going to continue to watch a lot of film, then get in the gym. I mean, there’s no pressure at all. I’m just trying to go out there and do too much. I’ve just got to slow down a little bit.”
While his father did teach without the cursing he may hear from the stands in New York City, nothing of the early criticism that Knox may hear will come close to what he grew up with in his ears.
“My dad coached pretty much my whole life,” Knox said. “I think he stopped coaching me when I got to the seventh, eighth grade, serious AAU, when I started getting recruited and stuff like that. That’s when he laid off and start working on my little brother. I’ve got two younger brothers and younger sisters, so he’s going to do that pretty much with all of us, make sure we get that coaching and get that discipline. And then at an older age he’ll let us go.
“My dad, he yelled and screamed at me all the time. So when I got to [John Calipari] in college and Fiz, I mean, it’s just so natural the yelling and screaming and all that stuff. My dad doesn’t cuss, so I mean, he just constantly yelling and screaming, always hard on you, hard working. At a certain age you just get used to it. And I’ve kind of adapted to it. It helps when you go to other coaches.”
Hardaway Jr. expressed similar sentiments, that nothing Fizdale can say will be any harder than how his father, former NBA star Tim Hardaway, would push him.
“Oh yeah, I’ve taken a lot of that yelling from my pops,” Hardaway Jr. said. “I’m pretty sure it won’t be any worse than that.”
Knox has remained confident in himself through the early bumps, in no small part to the lessons imparted by his father, who arrived in New York to be with him this week.
“He taught me throughout my whole life, just staying disciplined, staying respectful, manners, all that stuff,” Knox said. “You never know who’s watching. Somebody could be watching wanting to sign you, to do a deal or something like that. Basically, one thing he always told me is stay professional at all times.
“He’s sending me a whole bunch of NBA videos, from back in the day, nice moves from today. He texts me all the links and I just watch them. After every game he’ll give me his critique, give me some tips for the next game. But every time I talk to my dad he’s giving me extra tips, extra advice. That’s just who he is. I mean, as a pro player. It’s the same probably for Tim, his dad will give him advice. If you’re a pro player and you’re watching your son you’re always going to have advice.”