Now that the patella tendon that Justin Knox tore when he was a sophomore is completely healed and he can play basketball pain-free, there is a mad rush to check out this 6-9, 220-pounder from Tuscaloosa (AL) Central that plays on the AAU circuit with the Birmingham Raptors. Listed at three stars by Scout.com, his ranking is on the rise after a superb summer at camps and in AAU tournaments.

(See Justin Knox profile)

"He tore his patella tendon when he was a sophomore and we brought him along really slow," said Coach Robert Watson, entering his fifth season as Central's head basketball coach. "We didn't want to take a chance of re-injuring his knee so we made sure we took our time so that when he got back he was stronger than he's ever been."

That meant being eased back into a full-time role during Central's 2005-06 season. It wasn't until the final third of the season that Knox was cut loose and allowed to play extended minutes.

The injured knee is 100 percent now and stronger than it's ever been. He's added muscle on his long, lean frame, too. He's grown an inch and he's about 15 pounds heavier than he was back in January. The added muscle is most visible in his arms and chest but it's clear that he's got plenty of room to add more.

"I think he's going to keep growing," said Watson. "I can see him at 6-11 or 7-0, maybe 240-250 pounds. He already has a very versatile game so when he gets taller and stronger, he's really going to be outstanding."

Watson says he sees a lot of Tracy McGrady in Justin's game. Knox continues to expand his range on a jump shot that's already pretty consistent up to 15 feet. He's very comfortable putting the ball on the floor and taking it to the rack. He can play the power game but he can finish on the break.

When assessing Knox's game, Watson says the key word is adaptable. Adaptability is what makes Tracy McGrady a star in the NBA and that's what Washington sees in Knox.

"If you want to run, he can run, handle the ball and finish on the break," said Watson. "If you want to play half court, he can post up and play strong on the inside. You shut him off inside and he can take you outside with his jump shot. He's a very versatile player and he's only going to get better.

"I think he's only starting to scratch the surface on potential. Because he's still growing, there's no telling how good he can be. I think he's the total package. He's got the game, the potential and he's got the academics to back it up."

Academics are a big reason that Florida, Alabama, LSU, Tennessee and Virginia along with countless other schools are recruiting him very hard. You don't find a lot of potential 7-footers that have a 3.8 in the classroom and a 24 on the ACT, which means there won't be any guessing about the academics because he's already qualified.

Knox says his family used good grades as a way to motivate him, a move that will pay huge dividends in the future.

"At my house it was no study, no play," Knox said. "If you don't make good grades, then you don't play. So, I make good grades."

NCAA champion Florida and Alabama are recruiting him the hardest right now. He's camped at both Florida and Alabama, too, so he feels very comfortable with both schools and their basketball programs.

"Coach (Mark) Gottfried is a really cool dude," said Knox, who was at the Alabama team camp this past weekend where he averaged 15 points and double figures rebounds in 18 minute games where the clock ran perpetually. "I like the way they get their big men the ball. They have a really good history of getting their big men into the NBA.

"Alabama's right here near my home so I grew up watching them. I know everybody there so I'm real comfortable with them."

Florida is a long way from home but Coach Billy Donovan has made a strong, lasting impression and he's become friends with Joakim Noah and Al Horford.

"He's very determined to win," said Knox. "He's good at teaching you and all the guys on his team like him a lot. I really like the way they let their big men bring the ball up the court against the press or start the fast break on the dribble when they get a rebound. I could see myself doing that. I like the guys on their team a lot. When I was there at the Florida camp I got to play against Joakim and Al. They beat us every time but I did pretty well and we're friends now."

LSU, Tennessee and Virginia are all making a concerted effort to get Knox's attention along with most of the Southeastern Conference Schools. UAB is another school that's trying to make a recruiting move.

He isn't quite ready to make a commitment and it won't be surprising if he waits until just before the signing period in November before he announces his intentions. He would like to take some official visits before he locks in on one school.

"I want to get it over with before signing day but I don't want to rush things right now," he said. "I want to get some more information, think about things some more. I want to make the right choice."

Meanwhile, he'll just keep growing taller and stronger and his game will keep getting better.

"I told him the other day that he's still got a ways to go," said Watson. "He's got this little baby moustache and I told him 'I see girls that have more of a moustache than you.' He'll grow a lot more and the sky's the limit on his game. As hard as he works, that's only going to get a lot better. He could be a great one if he keeps on working hard."

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