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NBA Draft: Kentucky’s Kevin Knox still growing into his body, says coach John Calipari

Kentucky forward Kevin Knox against South Carolina on

Kentucky forward Kevin Knox against South Carolina on Jan. 16, 2018. Credit: AP / Sean Rayford

Kentucky coach John Calipari compared Kevin Knox to Celtics rising star Jayson Tatum and said teams will kick themselves if they pass on him in the draft.

The Knicks don’t want to be one of those teams.

Knox is among the forwards expected to be available when the Knicks pick ninth in Thursday’s NBA Draft, and there is a possibility he will call Madison Square Garden home.

The Knicks worked out Knox about 10 days ago, and he reportedly impressed them. Calipari said he’s spoken to Knicks executives, but he wouldn’t divulge much else. Calipari made it clear, though, that he believes the 18-year-old Knox can become the prototypical versatile forward for the team that is willing to wait for him to develop.

“Teams are going to say two years from now, ‘Why would we have passed on him?’” Calipari said during a conference call. “He’s the youngest player in this draft. He’s mentally mature. He’s got a great drive and will within his body. But physically his body isn’t there yet.

“So you’re getting a 6-10 scorer who’s tougher than you think but has a way to go. He’s going to mature physically. What you find out when you get him is that’s what the league is moving to: 6-10 guys who can score the ball, can shoot it, can block shots. Athletically he can do it.”

Knox is listed at 6-9, but he still could grow. He’ll turn 19 in August. The Knicks took a chance on an 18-year-old in last year’s draft when they selected still-growing Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick. They could do it again.

The Knicks’ current regime of president Steve Mills, GM Scott Perry and new coach David Fizdale have talked about being patient and building something sustainable the right way. The Knicks are not expected to contend next season. Their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, is out indefinitely after tearing his left ACL in February.

If it comes down to choosing between Villanova junior Mikal Bridges and Knox, the Knicks could have a tough decision.

Bridges, who will be 22 when training camp starts, is a better defender, shooter and is more NBA-ready. His defensive versatility is something the Knicks are lacking. But Knox may have a greater upside and potential.

Knox, a skilled offensive player whose father was an NFL receiver, led Kentucky in scoring with 15.8 points per game. With his size, he eventually could guard multiple positions.

The Knicks might never hear the end of it if the Knicks pass on Knox and he turns out to be like Tatum, the rookie forward who helped Boston — without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — get within one win of the NBA Finals.

“He has the mentality to be tough. It’s just physically he’s growing into his body,” Calipari said. “I look at guys like Jayson Tatum, who I thought was unbelievable in the playoffs. Recruiting him and knowing him and being around, watching him, I never knew he had that kind of toughness in him.

“I watched him. I watched him a ton of games, AAU. What I saw he never showed in college. But what I saw in the NBA he’s starting to mature. His body’s starting to mature. Now you have a skilled, long, tough player who’s a future All-Star. People knew he was good. They didn’t know he was that tough. Kevin falls into the same mode right now.”

New York Sports