CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the exciting aftermath of an ACC tournament final and his first NCAA tournament bid, North Carolina senior forward Justin Knox couldn’t help but think of his old teammates at Alabama.
“Honestly, I thought they should have been in the tournament,” Knox said. “It was unfortunate for them not to get in, but I know they’re pretty motivated in the NIT to win the whole thing. I just hope they finish their season out pretty good.”
Knox is finishing up his first and only season as a member of the powerhouse Tar Heels (26-7), who received a No. 2 seed in the East region of the NCAA tournament and will open Friday at 6:15 p.m. (Central) against No. 15 seed Long Island (27-5).
“It’s been good,” Knox said. “Real good, actually. We’ve gotten a lot of wins. We’re looking pretty good right now. So we’re just looking forward to starting Friday, getting momentum and getting deep into this tournament.”
In many ways, Knox seems like the same young man who attended Central Tuscaloosa High School and abruptly left the program after three seasons. But that final year at a place like North Carolina, he says, has obviously been different.
“Obviously, Alabama is a football school, and North Carolina is a basketball school. It’s more notoriety at North Carolina. That’s a major difference. It’s a good feeling to be noticed all over the state. We have so many fans at each game, even away games. As far as the team, I just feel like we’re more of a close-knit unit here. I think that’s what has really helped us get W’s throughout the season.”
A 6-foot-9 forward, Knox was brought in by UNC’s Roy Williams to help immediately with front-court depth. And that has been the case. Though he has started only one time, Knox has played in all 33 of the Tar Heels’ games this season, averaging 4.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
“He has fit in great,” UNC star Tyler Zeller said of Knox. “He’s done a great job stepping up. I think he’s played his role very well. He comes in and gives some huge minutes. He can come in and score, play defense, rebound. He’s a great all-around player.”
After a season in Chapel Hill, Knox said he does not regret his decision to leave Anthony Grant’s program with one year of remaining eligibility.
“Not at all,” Knox said. “I feel like I made the right decision. I just look forward to taking advantage of my first NCAA tournament.”
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