By JEREMY WOO
Special to ZAGSBLOG
MINNEAPOLIS — It’s not every day you see freshmen competing at AAU basketball’s highest level.
Even more rarely are they 7-foot, 200-pound centers with advanced skill sets. Meet 16-year-old Thon Maker, who just might be basketball’s next big thing.
At the fourth and final EYBL session this weekend, Maker dominated the final minutes of Boo Williams’ Saturday morning matchup with the CP3 All-Stars. He nearly helped his team to a comeback win with eight points in the game’s final minutes, including consecutive and-one baskets.
Despite the disappointing result, Maker and his team remained focused on the prize: a trip to July’s EYBL finals at the Peach Jam. Although Boo Williams was 0-3 heading into Sunday’s action, two must-win games remain if they hope to advance.
“We wanted to get a win,” he said. “As soon as we get two wins, we’re in the Peach Jam. We’re fighting for it. It’s playoff basketball right now.”
Altering opponents’ shots all game with his size and length, Maker was the backbone of a tough Boo Williams defensive effort. He also flashed outstanding foot speed, ability to run the floor and even handle the ball at times — tools that have scouts salivating. He’s also an outstanding free throw shooter with an improving jump shot.
Clearly one of the top players in the class of 2016, Maker has recently begun to hear from Kansas and Kentucky. He already holds offers from the likes of Arizona, Georgetown, LSU, Memphis, Miami, NC State, Ohio State and Virginia.
Make no mistake — Maker still has a ways to go. He’ll need to develop his offensive game with his back to the basket and from midrange. He’s not at a stage where he can take over games consistently. But the skills he possesses are rare, particularly since he’s only been playing ball for a few years.
Maker left his native Sudan at age 5 for Australia, sent by his family to obtain a better education there through an outreach program. Once there, he began to play sports not with basketball, but soccer. In May 2010, Maker was part of a developmental soccer academy, where he was noticed and quickly pulled off the pitch and into the gym by coach Edward Smith.
“My soccer coach called me and told me we had to come look at a long body,” said Smith, now Maker’s legal guardian. “I went over there, and he had big feet and was long at that time. We said ‘no more soccer,’ and started his basketball development.”
In summer 2011, Smith brought Maker to the United States to partake in the John Lucas Middle School Combine. After an impressive showing, moving over to the states to pursue the game was a no-brainer.
“We wanted to test him against the better kids here,” Smith explained. “He had success and we felt he had to come over here for the competition. The European-based work focuses on skill sets all-around, but there’s an element of toughness here and element of competition that’s missing overseas.”
Upon his arrival in the states, Maker enrolled at a middle school in Louisiana. In 2012, after starting high school at Metairie Park Country Day School just outside of New Orleans, he made the switch to the Carlisle School in Martinsville, Va., where he just completed his freshman year.
With three high school seasons left, the sky is the limit for Maker’s development on the court. Dreaming of professional basketball, he’s started to pattern himself after the right types of players.
“I watch some of the greatest,” Maker said. “I like Kobe, KD and Kevin Garnett—the way they work.”
It’s anyone’s guess where Maker might be in three years, but the early returns look promising. His doctors expect him to grow another inch or two. Though it’s all speculation, the possibilities are frightening.
For now, the 7-footer remains squarely at the top of his class. That’s not a bad place to be.