The 2020-2021 Kentucky Wildcat basketball team has officially arrived on campus. And while there is still some uncertainty about what exactly the season will look like (Mitch Barnhart is hoping for at least 50 percent capacity at Rupp Arena) the games will eventually get played. And because of it, it’s never too early to know the new players on this roster even better.
Therefore, in addition to all the long-form articles KSR did in the spring, we’ll also spend the next few weeks trying to track down other people who know these new players well, to get even further insight on them. For the incoming high school players, it might be a high school or AAU coach, and for the college transfers, maybe an asssitant or head coach who coached against them this past season.
So with that, it only seems appropriate that we start with the guy who will likely start it all: Freshman point guard Devin Askew. Prior to the pandemic shutting down the world, KSR had a chance to sit down with Askew’s former high school head coach Gary McKnight, who worked with the point guard the last three seasons at Mater Dei High School in California.
When reflecting back on his time working with Askew, McKnight raved about one thing. Thankfully for Kentucky fans, it might be the most important trait for any point guard, and Askew apparently has it in spades.
“He’s a very smart basketball player,” McKnight said. “He could be a good coach. He’s pretty good on the understanding of all the screens, slips and everything we do. There are times where he is talking to the other kids about what they need to do, or where they need to go, this or that.
“He’s very passionate about his game.”
McKnight certainly knows talent, as he has spent the better part of the last four decades turning Mater Dei into one of the premiere high school basketball programs in the country. It’s a school which has produced a bunch of future pros, including current Toronto Raptor Stanley Johnson and former Kentucky Wildcat LeRon Ellis, who played for McKnight during his early years at the school.
So yeah, McKnight has seen some good basketball through the years. And while it’s a little early to speculate on where Askew could be in a year or two, McKnight knows one thing for certain: Askew has the work ethic to get to the highest levels of basketball. If anything, McKnight thinks Askew might push himself too hard at times, even if the young point guard does take care of his body.
“Yeah he really works hard,” McKnight said. “He’ll wear himself out at times. I think he needs to pace himself at times. Still, he’s pretty good at taking care of his body. And his mother is a doctor so she stays on top of him. He’s a workaholic.”
Looking at Askew’s trajectory in the bigger picture, what makes his story so cool is that he doesn’t necessarily have the traditional path and background of an elite high school player. He isn’t one of those guys whose sole focus has been on making it to the NBA since the day he could walk, and instead admitted to KSR in a long-form sitdown in February that he never really considered where basketball could take him until his first college scholarship offers started rolling in a few years ago.
And even when he arrived at Mater Dei – a powerhouse which has won 11 state titles in its history – it wasn’t always a smooth ride. When he first got to campus as a freshman the Monarchs had a three-year starter at point guard named Spencer Freedman, who would eventually earn All-State honors. Because of it, Askew was forced into a back-up role. Yet despite the disappointment, Askew didn’t sulk or (like too many players do now) transfer. But instead worked hard behind the scenes and got better.
“At any other high school Devin would have started as a freshman,” McKnight explained. “But Spencer had been with me for three years and Spencer ended up being CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) Player of the Year. He was a very talented player, which I think made Devin even more hungry.”
It seems likely, as once Askew earned that starting spot a year later, his career took off. By the end of his second season at Mater Dei he was considered one of the best point guards in the country. By last fall he committed to Kentucky over offers from just about every major program in America, including Louisville, Arizona and Memphis.
More importantly, during this past season, Askew took on a role similar to the one he will in Lexington. On a roster loaded with talent (one player has already committed to USC, another is being recruited by the entire Pac-12) Askew had to find the balance of being a scorer and facilitator, being “the man” and being a guy who made sure to get other teammates involved as well.
It will be no different than next season, when lines up alongside Keion Brooks, BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke and others.
“Sometimes for us he needed to pick up more scoring, honestly probably more than he wants to,” McKnight said. “He’s really happy scoring about 15 or 16 a game, and facilitating, getting others involved.”
It’s a role that Askew is happy to embrace, and one that he has likely already taken with his new teammates on campus.
One thing is for certain though, whenever the Wildcats do kick things off, Askew will be ready to lead his team.
“I think he’s really fired up,” McKnight said. “He’s ready to go.”