Marco Killingsworth was one of the nation’s most highly sought after high school basketball players in the 2001 recruiting class.
While recruiting services were not nearly as prevalent as they are today, the Birmingham, Alabama native was on the radar of virtually every major program in the country.
A product of Central Park Christian Academy, Killingsworth was a first team Parade All-American who was ranked as the third-best power forward in the country by Hoop Scoop (12th overall player), Border Wars and Athlon’s.
Killingsworth’s 30 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks per game and .670 field goal percentage led Central Park Christian Academy to a 31-1 record in 2001.
He was a player that everyone wanted, and Killingsworth — he just wanted to go to IU.
Except that he didn’t.
Fayette, Alabama native Mike Davis joined the IU coaching staff in 1997 to serve as an assistant and lead recruiter under legendary head coach Bob Knight.
Davis grew up in Alabama, was the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1979 and played at the University of Alabama.
If there was a major recruiting target in the state of Alabama, Davis was going to be all over him. That’s how IU landed D.J. White in the class of 2004, and that’s who convinced Killingsworth to come to Indiana out of high school.
But there was just one problem.
On March 14, 2000, on the eve of the NCAA Tournament, CNN/SI released a report in which former IU players Neil Reed and Richard Mandeville accused Knight of choking Reed during a practice in 1997.
On Thursday’s edition of Indiana Sports Beat, Killingsworth told Jim Coyle that while he wanted to come to IU straight out of high school, he wanted nothing to do with Coach Knight.
“They (IU) recruited me out of high school. That’s the year the incident happened with Bobby Knight. So his last year would have been my senior year in high school. And I wanted to come there but I didn’t want that situation. I didn’t know that Bobby Knight was choking people. I was like nah, I’m good with that. I don’t need to get choked out.”
It might have actually worked out pretty well — that whole Knight and Killingsworth thing. Tough, physical and aggressive, the 6-foot-8 265 pound power forward had attributes that the three time national champion head coach admired. In the interview Killingsworth described his style of play as “go hard and be snarling while you are doing it.”
Of course even if Killingsworth had chosen IU out of high school, he never would have played for Knight, who was fired before the start of the 2000-01 season. Instead, it would have been Davis that he spent his entire college career playing for in Bloomington.
Killingsworth chose to stay in-state and played three seasons at Auburn. As a sophomore there he helped lead the Tigers to a NCAA Tournament appearance.
After his junior season he was already just the 10th player in that school’s history to record 1,000 career points and 500 career rebounds. Killingsworth led the Tigers in scoring (13.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.9 rpg) as a junior, and led the SEC in field goal percentage his final two seasons there.
But Killingsworth always had his eye on Indiana, including watching the Hoosiers make a run to the 2002 national championship game during his freshman season. When Auburn was placed on NCAA probation in 2004, he decided to make the leap.
Killingsworth had to sit out the 2004-05 season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules. That set up one final season for him at Indiana, and it was a productive one.
Perhaps best remembered for a 34 point performance against No. 1 Duke, the athletic big man averaged 17.1 points and 7.8 rebounds during his one season while shooting 56.3% from the field. The Hoosiers advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2006, falling to Gonzaga in Salt Lake City.
Interestingly, when he finally did arrive on campus in Bloomington, Killingsworth found that his perception of Coach Knight might not have been what he understood from hundreds of miles away.
While he was swayed by sensationalized national media accounts in high school, Killingsworth ultimately found that Indiana might have been a good fit from the start.
“The crazy thing about that though, I talked to the people that were there and they said he (Knight) was one of the best people you could meet,” Killingsworth said on Thursday. “As long as you play hard, he doesn’t have any problem with you. He only gets on the people that don’t play hard. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”
Could a young Killingsworth have been the difference in a 2002 National Championship game that saw Indiana struggle to get rebounds against bruising Maryland big men Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox? Of course we’ll never know.
Both Davis and Killingsworth would move on from Indiana after that 2005-06 season.
Killingsworth played overseas until suffering a knee injury last year, and he is now working as a basketball referee.
You can listen to the full interview below. It starts at the 1:36 mark.
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