Born in the war-torn South Sudan before moving to Australia as a small child, 17 year old Thon Maker finds himself as one of the nation’s top prep basketball players as he heads into just his junior year at Carlisle High School in Martinsville, Virginia. After a journey like that, it comes as no surprise that Maker is one of the more unique and intriguing prospects we’ve seen in some time.
Although every bit of 7’ (if not taller), Maker possesses a skill set closer to that of a small forward. Not only does he have impressive range for a player at his height, Maker is every bit as comfortable putting the ball on the floor and using his agility to out-maneuver opposing defenders with comparable size. Having averaged 21.3 PPG and 13.3 RPG on the year and after leading his team with a 26 point, 18 rebound five block performance in the 2014 Division II State Championship game as a sophomore at Carlisle, Maker realizes he is no longer an unknown commodity when on the court. In a day when just about every rising player is contrasted to stars (both past and present) with varying degrees of favorability, Maker accepts that some comparisons are simply inevitable and isn’t afraid to offer an opinion on which make the most sense to him.
“I would say [I’m] like a ‘stretch-four’ type, punishing inside and out at the same time,” Maker told Basketball Insiders. “I would say Kevin Durant, because basically we kind of have the same build. I’m a little taller, but at the same time he’s got that frame and that skill set. He’s tough and he gets to the line. I love getting to the line, I like taking those bumps and getting to the line. Also, [I like to] just go hard like Kevin Garnett. He’s a winner. His mindset is crazy. “
That answer makes a ton of sense, as he would almost certainly be considered a hybrid forward if anything. His love of the game is immediately evident when you talk to Maker about his play as we were able to throughout the adidas Nations Tournament in Long Beach, Ca. last weekend. Not only did he praise the tournament for attracting the “good players” that (specifically) “worked hard” on more than one occasion, Maker made it clear he thoroughly enjoyed embracing each matchup as a challenge and welcomed the idea of opposing coaches throwing the more talented players at him.
Maker also went on to reaffirm how much he respected Garnett’s intensity, mindset and approach. He seemed intent upon making it clear just how much he loves to compete; which may come as music to the ears and eyes of scouts that raised concerns over reports of defenders pushing him around in previous tournaments. Although there was continued evidence of opponents employing a similar ‘physical’ approach against Maker, he gamely battled and competed with some tough competitors throughout his weekend at Nations. Like many young players, Maker will need to improve his overall court awareness on the defensive end. He readily challenges in the lane and as a rim-protector, but still managed to find himself out of position at times throughout the weekend. Like with most skills in basketball, this something that can be rectified and enhanced with the proper coaching and focus upon improving.
While he certainly wasn’t the most dominant force in the field amongst high school players – a distinction that would probably have to go to the phenomenal weekend of G Dennis Smith Jr.– Maker was steady and showed signs of progress as he settled in. Perhaps the most fair and accurate way to describe Maker is that he is a work-in-progress that shows plenty of promise. Beyond the size and athleticism, he genuinely comes across as an individual that is intent upon improving on a daily basis.
The strongest and most telling response from Maker came when asked about which aspects of his game he’d like to improve upon over his next two seasons at the high school level. The 7’ Maker made certain of direct eye contact as he seemed to almost relish the opportunity to address his future goals.
“Strength…that’s the number-one goal. Strength,” Maker declared. “I’ve said it a lot to the media, but they don’t know what’s going on through this mind or about what I’m about to do…really just dominate this game.”
Those may come across as bold words to some, but it is necessary to combine that type of self-assuredness with a certain level of dedication to his craft in order for a player like Maker to reach his full potential. Even though there was speculation that he might apply for reclassification for senior status (given his age), it appears Maker intends to take the full two years of high school he is eligible to utilize. That should give him plenty of time to not only add the strength and size he desires, but he’ll also be able to continue refining what is already an impressive skill set before moving on to the next level.