Phenom: phenomenon; especially: a person of phenomenal ability or promise
Phenom is an overused term in sports, but there are times when it merits use. 6’11″ freshman Karl Towns, Jr. has already helped lead St. Joseph’s Falcons of Metuchen, New Jersey to a 28-2 record and its first New Jersey state title. It’s a feat that alumni including the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum and former Duke All-American and Chicago Bull Jason Williams weren’t able to achieve during their time at the North Jersey Catholic school. After averaging a double-double in the always competitive New Jersey Catholic leagues, MaxPreps named Towns, Jr. to its freshman All-American team.
Off the court, Towns’ impact was also felt at St. Joseph’s, as Karl, a sociable and conscientious young man, took on a leadership role as the freshman student class president and has earned a reported 4.3 GPA in the classroom. When Karl, a Knicks fan, was contemplating a career in sports broadcasting, MSG Varsity, a regional cable network, sent the then fifteen year-old to interview his basketball hero, forward Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. At the halftime of a Rutgers-Seton Hall basketball game earlier in the year, Victor Cruz, the All-Pro wide receiver for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, wanted to meet with the young phenom. An exceptional all-around athlete, the Piscataway, NJ native is a scratch golfer and, although perhaps not yet Randy Johnson, the 6’11″ freshman right-hander, who wears a size-20 sneaker, reportedly can already throw a baseball over eighty miles per hour.
On the court, “Little Karl” has benefitted from the tutelage and guidance of his father Karl Sr., a 6’5″ former tenacious rebounder for Monmouth University (still the university’s leader for rebounds in a season and game) and a successful high school coach at Piscataway Vo-Tech High School in New Jersey for the past fourteen years. His father has also coached Karl, Jr. on the AAU circuit, including for the Sports U. 16s at the Pitt Jam Fest, where the freshman was named to the All-Tournament team by HoopGroup. In order to honor the Dominican heritage of his mother, Jacqueline “Jackie” Cruz-Towns and to give his relatives a chance to watch him play competitively in person, Karl has trained with the Dominican National Team and yesterday made the senior team, which is still hoping to qualify for the Olympics in London this year.
A rare, young American big man who is both able to play with his back to the basket and has a face-up game to beyond the three-point line, Karl came within one shot of winning the three-point shooting contest at the recent Mary Kline Classic, a charity event in Pennington, New Jersey that included some of the best talent on the East Coast. Towns, who was one of the youngest participants, wanted to play in the event, which was able to raise over $20,000 dollars for brain cancer research, because he lost his grandfather to cancer.
Under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke has developed a legacy of success with tough New Jersey high school basketball players. All four of Duke’s National Championship teams had, at least, one starter from the Garden State. NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving (St. Patrick’s), the Bulls’ Luol Deng (Blair Academy), the Hornets’ Lance Thomas (St. Benedict’s), the Pacers’ Dahntay Jones (Rahway), Jason Williams (St. Joe’s), Bobby Hurley (St. Anthony’s), Roshown McLeod (St. Anthony’s), and Alaa Abdelnaby (Bloomfield) all went onto have NBA careers.
After the event, Karl Towns, Jr., an ambitious and cerebral young man with a disarming smile and a big heart, spoke with me extensively about a variety of topics.
Let’s start with the state title run.
Oh, you know, it was a big thing for us at St. Joe’s. I always told St. Joe’s that I wanted to do something that had never been done before: I was going to bring a state title to them. When we were going for the state title, we knew we had a chance to win it. We knew that we were the best team there.
At what point in the year did you get a sense that this could be the year? When did you feel that the group was really clicking?
When I first committed to the school..
Oh, really (laughs)
Yeah, you know, I did. I always have a high confidence that I know that we can do well in whatever we set our minds to. After the game in Teaneck, we lost the second game of the year. We came back and we won that third game. After that game, I just felt that we were going to gun for a state title this year. We weren’t going to wait.
Can you touch on your thoughts on two other talented guys that have passed through those same hallways, Jason Williams and Andrew Bynum?
Oh, Jason Williams is a great player and so is Andrew. I’m just trying to make my own legacy at St. Joe’s.
Bynum is such a great player and I just wanted to use the shooting touch of Jason and put it with Bynum’s post presence and then just try to make that work.
In terms of international play, you’ve trained with the Dominican National Team. How has that unique experience gone so far?
Oh, I actually just left our practice to come to this event. It’s just a great experience and know that I’m playing for my country and playing for something that’s much bigger than me is just rewarding and puts a lot of pride in myself.
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