For those that have seen me in person, I’m not very tall. 5’8” to be exact.
This past weekend I talked to a high school sophomore who is eight years younger than me but also 16 inches taller.
As a guy who covers sports for a living, it’s safe to say this kid was a basketball player.
Thon Maker of The Carlisle School in Martinsville is unanimously the number one prospect in the Class of 2016.
“I just have to keep my composure and just keep working hard,” said Maker. “Anyone can be up for that spot whenever, so I just have to keep working.”
Born in South Sudan, a country ravaged by AIDS, Civil War and overtaken by poverty, getting out doesn’t happen to many. Thon was fortunate and found a better life for himself in Australia, the country he grew up in.
But it just so happens that an NBA star came from South Sudan, Luol Deng of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While growing up in Australia, he got hooked on the game watching players like Kyrie Irving, Deng’s teammate in Cleveland and former Duke Blue Devil just like Deng.
In the land down under is where the seven foot, 200 pound sophomore picked up the game of basketball.
“It’s a beautiful game. I love to win and take challenges,” added Maker. “Moving to the next level is why I took up basketball.”
There’s pressure as letters from Kansas, Duke, Texas, Arizona and a number of top-tier Division 1 programs make their push for the Sudanese product. Keeping him grounded is something his Head Coach, Jason Niblett, has worked on throughout his career as a Carlisle Chief.
“We just try and tell Thon to just play and the game. No pressure and enjoy it,” said Niblett. “He’s a fantastic talent, a pleasure to coach and we’re just happy to have him.”
Now a new challenge has risen to the forefront. Dealing with a finger injury throughout this season has sidelined him, but he’s continued to support his teammates even while sitting on the bench.
“I have to. At the end of the day they’re always there for me picking me up.”
He still has two-and-a-half more years left in Martinsville before he heads off to play collegiately but he told me he just wants to go, “wherever the game takes him.”
A very humble and respectful young man for someone who is more than likely sure to be an NBA Lottery pick in 2017.