WEST ORANGE, N.J. — Karl Towns said he wasn’t nervous playing in front of his future college coach for the first time since committing to Kentucky Dec. 4 and reclassifying to 2014 from 2015.
But when John Calipari and assistant Orlando Antigua entered the gym at West Orange High School to watch the 7-foot Towns, it definitely caused a stir in the crowd, with several fans eventually going over to Calipari and posing for pictures and asking for autographs.
“I was actually a little excited,” Towns said after finishing with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in St. Joseph-Metuchen’s 67-66 overtime win against Teaneck in the Hoop Group Showcase. “You’re going to be playing for Kentucky in a while and always seeing your coach is a very exciting thing because it’s like your father. You want to go out there and play well for your father, and also my real father was here so it was kind of like double momentum.”
While battling the flu, Towns struggled in the first half, scoring just four points against a defense that had no one near his size defending him.
“I had the flu coming in so I didn’t know if I was going to play,” he said. “I decided that I was going to play.”
But at the break, teammate Wade Baldwin, who finished with a game-high 27 points, pulled Towns aside and told him to take the game over. St. Joe’s-Metuchen had lost its season-opener to East Brunswick Friday and a second loss to Teaneck in as many years would’ve dropped them to 0-2 on the season.
“Karl’s the No. 1 player in the country in my mind,” Baldwin said. “He had a slow game and I talked to him at halftime and I told him, ‘Karl, you’re the best player in the country. The people are out here watching you and you need to show these people what’s up’ and he came out and did his thing.”
Towns was very aggressive near the basket in the second half, driving in for layups, slicing through the lane and receiving passes from his guards and getting to the foul line.
“Coming out in the second half, we started getting the ball more inside and you can see it was working out very well,” Towns said.
Longtime New York recruiting expert Tom Konchalski evaluated Towns’ play in the game.
“I think last year he was too perimeter oriented and he didn’t post up,” he said. “He had 22 catches in the offensive court in the game, nine were perimeter, six were outside the 3. He was 0-for-2 from 3, and then three other perimeter catches, but he’s looking to play inside a little more. He has tremendous hands. He’s got to work on his feet, his agility.
“What he’s gotta do is expand his rebounding range. Right now his rebounding-range is his wingspan, which is considerable. But he’s gotta be able to rebound out of his area.”
How does Konchalski see him fitting in at Kentucky?
“First of all, he’s got two years before he gets there, why can’t he fit in?” he said. “They’re going to play fast, but two years from now he’s going to be more mobile,he’s going to move better. He wants to be a four man, he’s going to be a five.”
Calipari coached Towns this past summer with the Dominican Republic National Team, and Towns ultimately selected Kentucky over Duke and Florida after visiting the campus for a second time last month.
Calipari came to New Jersey after watching 2014 targets Cliff Alexander and Trey Lyles Saturday in Indiana. The 6-10 Lyles went for 24 points and 14 rebounds to lead Arsenal Tech (Indianapolis, Ind.) to a 73-51 victory over Chicago Curie, which was paced by the 6-9 Alexander’s 18 points.
He did not watch Andrew Wiggins put up 32 points in a game in which fans taunted him with chants of “USA, USA.” Still, Calipari has seen Wiggins more than any other college coach in recent weeks.
Towns said he is not actively working to recruit any other players for 2014 but is confident Kentucky will be formidable that year, even if several of the current and incoming players are then in the NBA.
“I think we got some good pieces coming to Kentucky and I think that 2014 when we have to step on the court with a big ‘UK’ sign on our chest,” Towns said, “we’ll come out and we’ll show you what we got.”
Photos: Hoop Group