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Alabama State guard Amarr Knox was once committed to Memphis basketball, but is now focused on living in the moment as he and the Hornets revisit his hometown.

The Alabama State Hornets have several connections to both the City of Memphis and U of M basketball.

They’re coached by former Tigers assistant Tony Madlock, who also played guard at Memphis for four seasons (1988-1992) and helped Penny Hardaway and co. reach the Elite Eight in his senior year. His son, TJ, who starred at Houston High in Memphis, is the Hornets’ second leading scorer through their first three games (17 points, 6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per contest). Former Memphis walk-on Tadarius Jacobs is also on the team.

But redshirt-freshman guard Amarr Knox—another Memphian—is the only one who doesn’t have any connections to his hometown school. He almost did, though.

The former Bartlett High star left a huge impression in the middle of his junior season, leading the Panthers to an 85-64 demolition of 5-star guard JD Davison (who’s now signed to a two-way contract with the Boston Celtics) and the Calhoun Tigers on Dec. 10, 2020. Knox scored 37 points in the victory.

This electrifying performance changed everything for the 2022 graduate. Knox suddenly found himself ranked in the top 40 of the ESPN 100 list. He was largely recognized as a 4-star recruit, and perhaps the best scoring guard in Memphis high school basketball. If that wasn’t enough, Hardaway (now the head coach at Memphis), Madlock and the rest of Memphis’ staff gave him an offer.

The 6-foot-2 guard took it with little hesitation. Knox announced his commitment to the Tigers in Jan. 2021, becoming Memphis’ first 2022 pledge at the time.

“I played against JD Davison and I had a good game. [Memphis] offered me the next day,” Knox told Bluff City Media. “It felt great to be able to be recruited by Penny Hardaway.”

Things changed again for both Knox and Memphis in the 2021 off-season. Madlock, who’d been one of Hardaway’s assistants since the latter was hired in March 2018, left the Tigers to become the head coach at South Carolina State. That didn’t stop Memphis—coming off an NIT Championship—from turning its summer into pure bliss, though. Hardaway and his staff managed to construct one of the most star-studded college basketball rosters in recent memory, headlined by reclassified 5-star freshmen Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren.

The summer didn’t go quite as well for Knox, who was entering his senior season at Bartlett. Despite an impressive Nike EYBL campaign with Team Thad, his recruiting rankings began to falter and he slowly fell out of Memphis’ limelight. Knox, by no fault of his own, was overshadowed by the natural glamours that come with Tigers basketball. He decided he didn’t want that, and decommitted from Memphis on Oct. 30, 2021.

“I had to make the best choice for myself and my family,” Knox said.

Knox went on to play the best basketball of his career in his final year with the Panthers, leading Dion Real’s team to a 34-7 record (12-0 in district play). Bartlett advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 2001, and Knox was named the TSSAA District 15 4A Player of the Year for his efforts. He, Matthew Stokes, JR Jacobs, Christian Alston and others advanced to the Class 4A semifinals before losing to Dobyns-Bennett 70-69 at the buzzer. Knox scored 33 points in his last high school game.

Even after a phenomenal senior season, Knox still didn’t know where he was headed after high school. He received interest from some schools, but nothing seemed like the right fit. That’s when a familiar face gave Knox a call: Madlock, who’d left South Carolina State after one season to become the head coach at Alabama State. Knox was on his way to Montgomery.

“I ended up in a great situation,” he said. “I knew Coach Madlock because he coached at Memphis. He’s from Memphis…We talked about it. He let me know that I’d have to earn my spot and everything. I trust that’s what he had to do.”

Knox was redshirted for the majority of last season due to an injury, but he did get to play in the Hornets’ game at Memphis last season. He made good contributions too, compiling 8 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 33 minutes. Though Memphis won 83-61, Alabama State didn’t make it easy. It trailed the Tigers by just 10 at halftime before Kendric Davis, DeAndre Williams and co. managed to pull away in the game’s final 20 minutes.

“I had fun with [that game],” Knox said. “It was a great experience for me to go up against somebody like Kendric Davis.”

The redshirt-freshman has seen an expanded role upon his return this season, averaging 9.7 points and 4.3 rebounds through three games. His progression from year one to year two is evident for everyone, even his would-be coach at Memphis.

“Yeah, he’s growing,” Hardaway said Thursday. “You get your growing pains as a freshman and now going into the second year, things are better. It’s early in the season, but I’m always rooting for Memphis kids to do well. Tony [Madlock] loves him, and [Knox] has been a really good player for [Madlock] there.”

Alabama State (1-2) visits Memphis (2-0) again on Friday (7 p.m., ESPN+). The Tigers won’t be the first daunting road challenge for the Hornets, despite the young season. ASU’s already played at both Iowa and Ole Miss. The Hornets were trounced by the former, but put up an inspiring fight against Chris Beard’s Rebels in a 69-59 loss. Knox scored 11 points in 24 minutes.

But Memphis, which received 53 votes in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, is probably still the biggest test Alabama State has seen thus far. The Tigers are coming off a 70-55 win at Missouri last Friday, in which they won the second half by 22 points and held Mizzou to just 5 made shots in the 20-minute period. Jahvon Quinerly led the way with 18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. David Jones, Jaykwon Walton and Jordan Brown also scored double-figure points. Knox, despite both the opponent and the homecoming, is still trying his best to view this as just another game.

“I kinda treat it like any other game,” he said. “It is fun playing in front of my hometown, but there’s one goal we’re all trying to get: that’s to win the game.”

Knox could easily be on the other side of this contest had things gone differently. He could be playing for his hometown in every game as opposed to playing in it for one game. But he’s found joy in being at Alabama State, and tries not to dwell on the past. All he’s focused on now is living in the moment, and helping his team score an upset win over the Tigers Friday night.

“I don’t really imagine [myself playing for Memphis],” Knox said. “I just like to stay in the moment. I’m grateful for the opportunity I got to play for Coach Madlock and the team that we have this year and last year. I’m just trying my best to keep getting better.”

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