2016 7-Footer Thon Maker Can Be a Game Changer — BDN Chats With Him

Thon MakerThon Maker is a 7 footer who is incredibly long and with arms that never seem to stop.  He is Class of 2016, which means he's finishing up the 9th grade.  But the young man is very much on the radar of numerous major powers, and he played very well at last weekend's Pangos All-American Camp in Long Beach, making the all-star game.  Thon originally comes from the Sudan, then lived in Australia, before settling a few years ago in Virginia.  He runs with the Boo Williams AAU squad.  In a separate post to come, I'll describe what I see in his game, but suffice it to say at this point that based on the skills he already possesses, if he learns to maximize his height and length, and puts on weight, the sky is the limit.

One of Thon's coaches at Boo Williams accompanied him to Long Beach last weekend, and sat in on our interview as well.  He also chimed in with regard to a few of the questions, when Thon deferred to him.  Here's how it went:


BDN: All right.  I’m here at the Pangos Camp with Thon Maker, who is certainly the tallest and longest young man that I’ve seen here so far at the camp.  So Thon: I thought that first, you’re kind of a new guy on the radar for a lot of fans, so I thought maybe you could introduce yourself a little bit and tell us a little bit about yourself.  I know you have an interesting back story.  If you could just tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.


TM: I’m Thon Maker.  7 feet tall.  Just turned 16.  From Australia.  Right now living in Martinsville, Virginia.  I play for Carlyle School.


BDN: Before you were in Austalia though, you come from where?


TM: South Sudan.


BDN: How long have you been in the States?


TM: Two years now.


BDN: And did you start playing ball in Sudan, or in Austalia, or not really so much until you got to the States?


TM: In Australia.


BDN: Any of your family come over with you, or is your family still in Australia?  Could you tell us a little bit about your support system here?


TM: Coach Smith right here is the family I have right now in the States.  I’ve been with him since 2009-2010.  2009 actually.


BDN: So like I said it seems like your kind of new on the radar.  You’re getting a lot of attention here in a relatively short period of time.  If you could give us a sense of what that’s like.  Is life just crazy with all the attention from everybody or are you able to keep it under control or how’s that been?


TM: I have a plan and I just gotta keep it focused and keep on working hard.


BDN: What’s your plan?


TM: Eventually to get into the league.


BDN: Yeah, I think you share that with a lot of the guys that are here, of course.  If you, for the fans that haven’t seen you play, how would you describe your game?  Tell us some of the things that you think are your strengths, maybe some other things you think you need to work on . . .


TM: Well first off, I play hard to win.  You gotta play to win first.  And anything else . . . as long as I’m winning, I’ll have fun within the game.  And I just got to keep my team in control so we can get that win together.  And play hard.


BDN: I have to say, as I was just watching you play right now, for a guy your size, the handle that you have and the smoothness of the shot is pretty impressive.  You must’ve spent a lot of time working on that part of your game.


TM: Yes, we have.  (laughing)


BDN: Now tell me, what are some of the areas that you think you need to work on the most?


TM: Right now, I’m watching “Kobe Doing Work” and  . . .


BDN: Kobe’s doing some work on his Achilles right now . . .


TM: (laughing) The show “Kobe Doing Work”


BDN: I know.


TM: And I got to get the same mindset down or even better and doing a lot of skipping and working with a lot of squeezing a tennis ball to get my hands stronger.  You know, catching the ball.


BDN: Yeah, that’s an important thing obviously for a big guy cuz when you get a guy dishing to you, you want to be able to handle it.  That’s a smart thing, to work on your hands, your forearms, to strengthen that area?


TM: Yeah.


BDN:  What did you say you weigh?


TM: 200 pounds.


BDN: 200.  Most people would probably take a look at you and say, “hey.  It would be good for him to put on some weight.”  Is that part of the plan, or not necessarily?


Edward Smith:  We have a four year plan and so we figure that at 200 by his senior year he should be around 235.  We’ve come from 2011 when he was 165 and we’ve come –


BDN: Still 7 feet?


ES: No, he was 6’9”.  And so we’ve progressed.  You know, we’re putting on the weight smart and he’s working, doing a lot of band work and he’s lifting a little bit, just touching upon it, but you know, we don’t want to lose his speed, his quickness.  That’s his asset.


BDN: So many guys make that mistake.  They just put weight on for the sake of weight and then they lose their quickness, their agility.  Seems like you’re pretty determined to make sure that doesn’t happen with Thon.


ES: Well, it’s a different game these days.  The stretch 4 or combo forward is important in the game and he’s able to facilitate the offense from different areas, so we’re trying to get him to work on the elbows, the top of the key and the mid-post right now, for now.


BDN: Work on the low post later?


ES: He posts deep right now against these guys.  I think at the next level they’re going to move him so much because you want to get other big guys to chase him.  Bring him off pindowns.  If you can bring him off screens, with his shot, you get a big guy trying to chase him, you have a switch-out with a little guard.  He’s shooting over the top of the little guard and  --


BDN: That’s what the Heat’s doing with Bosh.


ES: Yeah, but (laughing) you want to give a little bit more –


BDN: (laughing) You don’t want to go there . . .


ES: (laughing) I’ll leave that . . .  I don’t want him to just sit on the perimeter because he could be a little bit more effective like . . . Chris Bosh could be a little bit more effective rebounding.


BDN: He could.


ES: That’s what you want him to do.  You don’t want him to be a guy that drifts.  You want him to get there, not just sit –


BDN: With a purpose.


ES: Yeah.  So he can find his game in other areas rather than sit in the corner.


BDN: Totally makes sense.  Thon, let me ask you:  list of schools.  Who’s been reaching out the most, who’s kinda making an early impression on you school-wise.  Of course everyone’s going to want to know that.


TM: Again, that’s his answer.  (laughs)


ES: It’s so early in the picture and so when you start looking at schools like Duke, you start looking at Carolina’s from our area being in Martinsville, Virginia, you look at Virginia in the ACC, Maryland, those types of schools.  You want to make sure, even Duke, will the coach still be around in four years?  Because it’s more so than the institution, it’s also the coaching staff.  And so that’s important.  So when coaches are like, around like late sophomore year you start focusing on.  We’ve heard from Ohio State, Memphis, LSU, Arizona, UConn, Miami, Kentucky, Kansas, Georgetown.  I mean, those are the guys that  -- Virginia, Maryland – guys who have been in the mix.  We haven’t really heard from Duke yet.


BDN: That was going to be my next question.  Have you --  Duke hasn’t really reached out yet?


ES:  No, not yet.


BDN: You think they will, though?


ES: I think they will.


BDN: Let me ask you, Thon.  When it does come time, and I know it’s early, but how big of a factor is the educational quality of the school going to be for you.  Some guys it is and some guys, honestly, “I’m there to ball” and the academics may not be as important.  What about for you?


TM: I take my academics serious, you know.  I gotta compete on the court and with my books.  So right now I’m sitting on a 4.08, is it?  And the same thing, being on the court and with my grades.  I look forward to it.


BDN: What do you think, when the time comes are going to be the biggest factors for you?  Obviously we’re a very long way from a decision, but at this early stage what do you think are some of the most important factors that are gonna go into it when you have to decide between schools?


TM: Coaching, personnel also, you gotta see what type of school it is, basically that.


BDN: When it comes to Duke, coach, is it actually a concern, coach, as far as Coach K’s longevity and being there, because I haven’t heard of him showing any signs that he’s going anywhere.


ES: No.  Four years from now, things change for guys.  He does so much for the game.  USA Basketball, gets another gold medal.  Wins a couple more national championships.   Sometimes guys want to hang it up, and you have to look at that situation.  You kind of look at, guys who are getting guys to the league, guys who can say --  how he’s (Thon) going, if he keeps working as hard as he is, you’re looking at a two year window, at max, in college.  If we all do what we’re supposed to do, including everybody around the situation.  So you want to make sure that the right people are there, the right people are there to facilitate that and you stay along the path.  We have some good people in our AAU circle, Boo Williams, work with John Lucas also. We have a small little circle of people between Boo and John Lucas  that we work with, and so we have a plan with that.


BDN: That sounds good.  What are your plans for the rest of the summer?


TM: Just finish strong.  A lot of camps this month and leave a great impression.


BDN: What camps are you gonna be at?


ES: We have the Elite 100 in St. Louis from the 5th to the 9th.  Then we have the NBA Players Association Camp in Charlottesville the 12th through the 16th.    Then we’ll be at one of the Skills Academies, either Amare or Kevin Durant Skills Academy.  And that’s still June.  And then we have, early July if he makes it, the LeBron camp.   That would be capping your camp sessions.  Then we have the Peach Jam. And then we have Nationals in Orlando.  We shut it down after that.


BDN: He’ll be ready to shut it down.  He’ll be ready for a rest.


BDN: Well listen, I really appreciate your taking the time, actually both of you, to speak with us, and I hope to see you again on the circuit and catch up with you soon.


TM: Thank you.



2015 LA Backcourt Star Tyler Dorsey Talks Recruiting

Tyler Dorsey 2Tyler Dorsey is an exciting 2015 combo guard prospect now playing at traditional power St. John Bosco in Bellflower, CA, just a few quick freeway rides from his home in Pasadena.  Duke has initiated contact with the young combo guard, but it is still very early in his recruiting process.  Dorsey's game is smooth.  And he seems to have a very good sense for the flow of the game and that allows him to anticipate the game and stay a step ahead of his opponent.  He's grown a couple of inches so now has excellent size for the point guard position, which is where he would like to play.  It remains to be seen if Duke will show major interest, but Dorsey has landed on many schools radar and has a growing list of suitors.  He is a friendly and outgoing young man, as comes through in the following interview from the Pangos All-American Camp this past weekend.


More to come.


Grant Hill was a True Blue Legend

grant hillIt was another hot summer day in Durham, North Carolina and I strolled into Sam's Quick Shop for a cool drink. Still a main stay for beverages for Duke students today, Sam's, a convenience store near campus, then featured a full newsstand.

Back in the corner was Grant Hill who has a penchant for reading the latest gossip in the Star and Enquirer. Dressed in long Levi shorts which were the thing in the early 90's, Hill like many other Duke Basketball players was a main stay at the location.

Anyhow, on another occasion, I saw him reading a magazine and for whatever reason I remember the cover featured an article on a young music artist named Tamia. At the time that meant nothing for me but the name somehow stuck in my memory and Tamia would eventually become Hills' wife.

That is but one of the many memories I have about Grant and probably one of the more impertinent ones for he was a true Duke legend, but somehow, no memories of Grant seem small.

Of course, the biggest memory for me was his amazing pin point accurate pass to Christian Laettner in that much ballyhooed win over Kentucky in one of the most famous games in history.

I remember going to Sam's the year before to buy a copy of the Sports Illustrated he appeared on which captured his amazing dunk over Kansas on the cover with his fade hair cut in play.  The team was like Rock Stars back in the day and there was no shortage of press for their accomplishments.

From G.Q. magazine to the many daily newspapers which still carried major weight back in the day, Duke players and Grant were the new kids on the block and in that day media darlings.  Perhaps, the success of the back to back teams, is a major reason why the guys who were considered and called "America's team," at the time eventually became more and more vilified, not much unlike the New York Yankees where you love them or hate them.

Grant Hill memories no matter how big or small are special to Duke fans. The aforementioned cover was of course the year before the "shot," or the "pass," in Hills case. And there in lies the key to why his memories are extra special.

As a freshman, Hill helped lead Duke to their first national championship under Mike Krzyzewski and the first one is always special.  Winning the first title legitimized Duke as one of the nations best and the rest is as they say history.

Before that happened Duke fans thirsted and dreamed of a national championship for their program and it would never have happened without Sir Grants' contributions.

Sir Grant! That has a nice ring to it and I suppose a retired jersey serves as a special reminder as to how good he was. But if Coach K were to "Knight," his players, Hill would certainly be one of them, if not the first of them.

Grant Hill has long held a special place in my heart as a fan and he is pretty much on equal ground with Christian Laettner as my all time favorite player.

Hill was one of the most talented players ever to wear the Duke uniform. In some ways he is the Blue Devils version of Michael Jordan in that his contributions have been immensely valuable to the program.

Some of you never got to see his exploits or the drive the contingent of Laettner, Hill and Hurley shared. Hill was a part of the first great Duke teams and at it's core. He was the glue guy and a player Krzyzewski never had to worry about being ready to play.

When you've been around as long as I have, special memories can almost run together over the years. In fact, it's overwhelming to think back on the beginning of the K era at Duke and to have lived it to this day.

But while some memories fade, those I have of Grant Hill no matter how small stick out. Things like when he returned to campus with the Detroit Pistons for s summer practice when Chis Collins's dad was at the helm.

No matter how insignificant any memory seems with concern to Grant, one would think that they  should all form together in some way where I can more easily express them in some special way.

But with concern to Grant, all I can really say is he was truly one of the most special players to ever come through Durham and no matter how hard I try, there is just no way to properly convey that through words.

Grant Hill recently announced his retirement from the NBA after a 19 year career

College Football preview magazines hit the stands

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore the advent of the World Wide Web, football fans would anxiously await the beginning of June when the college football preview magazines would hit the stands.

A lot has changed since then, with information as close as the click of the mouse. No longer do people have to live with somewhat dated information.  But the preview magazines still hold a special place in the hearts of many, and they have just now started to hit the newsstands.

So I made the journey to the local book store yesterday and I will pass along what the previews think about the team I cover, the Duke Blue Devils.

The three magazines that are currently out are Athlon, Lindy's and TSN or The Sporting News, which merged with Street and Smith's a few years back.  While one would think the marriage of two great partners would produce a special yearbook, the results are more bare bones than one might expect, and that means Athlon and Lindy's are probably a little better.

My favorite pre season magazine, Phil Steele's College Football, has a few days left before it hits the stands. While there is not as much on the current year's teams beyond the basics, they make up for it with some amazing history, stats, and lists of interest.

Anyhow, Duke is picked 7th in its division by each of the publications --  dead last in what is now a 14-team league.  In short, the Duke program is still earning respect out there even as they come off their first bowl season in quite some time.

Athlon ranks the Blue Devils the 73rd best team in the country while Lindys' rates them 82nd. TSN does not do the national ratings. Atlon, which is the only one to project win-loss record, predicts the Blue Devils to go 2-6 in the ACC and 5-7 overall.

As for pre season accolades for players, Ross Cockrell is 1st team All-ACC in all of the publications. Duke punter Will Monday is listed as first in two of the three projections as well.  Lindy's lists Duke kicker Ross Martin as the 7th best place kicker in the country and they slot Will Monday in as the third best punter in the land.

It takes time for perceptions to turn around with concern to pre season prognostications, so I am not looking for too many more polls to have the Blue Devils picked higher than sixth in their division, but it is clear that Duke is headed in the right direction, as each of the publications acknowledges.  So while the pre season magazines certainly don't carry the weight they once did, they are still popular in some circles and there is nothing like sitting on the deck in summer with a hard copy to thumb through.

As for the coming season's edition of the Duke Football team?  There is nothing more satisfying than proving some arm chair know-it-all types wrong.

Sidebar - The 1962 Street & Smith's pre-season yearbook picked Duke 2nd in the nation, and featured Jay Wilkinson on the cover.  A nearly mint copy brings about 40 bucks in the collector's market.

2015 Big Man Elijah Thomas Chats with BDN

Elijah Thomas is a 6'9" 235 pound power player out of Texas who is quickly moving up the rankings as one of the top players in the Class of 2015.  As Thomas discusses in the video interview, Duke appears to be showing major interest.  Coach K and the staff watched him several times on the Nike EYBL circuit this spring, and it's no wonder why.  The big guy has a wide body, round shoulders, and soft hands, and just has a knack for getting buckets down low.  He's gotten himself into much better condition, and that will only improve as well.  As the video shows, he's an extremely affable, engaging, and likable young man who appears to have his head on straight.  The following video interview took place this past weekend at the Pangos All-American Camp in Long Beach, where ET was an easy selection to play in the all-star game.


More to come.


Pangos All-American Camp: BDN Chats Up 2015 Big Man Stephen Zimmerman

Stephen Zimmerman 6/1/13 Long Beach  CA
Stephen Zimmerman
6/1/13 Long Beach CA

Stephen Zimmerman is a mobile and athletic 6'11" power forward/center out of Las Vegas, class of 2015.  He's relatively new on the radar for the Blue Devils, and he's shooting up everyone's recruiting lists.  Zimmerman is a guy that when you look at him on the sidelines, you think yourself, "is that guy really a player" but then he hits the court and the answer is very obviously "yes."  He will need to put on weight, but he can and will.  But even at this weight he is able to play through contact when necessary, and he certainly can shoot the face-up J.  I'll have more of a scouting report on him later.  But I did catch up with him at the Pangos camp this weekend to talk about him, his game, and his recruiting process, and here's what he had to say:


BDN: Blue Devil Nation is here with Stephen Zimmerman, a 2015, 6’11”-7 foot , what –

SZ: 6’11” – 7 feet.

BDN: Power forward/center, you’re probably not exactly sure just what you’re going to be at this point, is that right?

SZ: Yes, sir.

BDN: You’re out of Las Vegas?

SZ: Yes.

BDN: Okay.  You know, a lot of the Duke fans are probably not as familiar with you yet.  Hopefully they’re going to get more familiar with you.  So I’d like to start out, if you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, your family outside of basketball.

SZ: I was born in Tennessee.  Me and my dad were born in Tennessee.  And my parents got divorced when I was like five.  My mom moved to Phoenix and my dad moved to Vegas and then met my step-mom.  And then I have three older sisters, two of whom are like 6’3”, 6’4” –

BDN: I was going to ask you, are any of them athletes?

SZ: Tall family. And then the oldest one’s like 5’6”.

BDN:  She’s the point guard.

SZ: (laughs) And they’ve all moved out, they’re doing their own things.  And now I’m with my step-brother, he’s my age, and my little sister.

BDN:  Seems like you were a little bit new on the radar.  You’ve really popped here recently.  Your life must have changed.  It must feel like a different life than it was even six months or a year ago.  What’s that been like?

SZ:  It’s just crazy.  I love all the attention.  I’m gonna try to ride it as far as I can go and still try to get better so I can pick up more.

BDN: Let’s talk about your game a little bit.  If you were scouting you, what would you say the strengths of your game are, first of all?

SZ: I would say moving without the ball and being able to face up and shoot the ball as well, as a center. BDN: I was just watching you in this last game here.  Your handle looked good for a guy almost seven feet tall.  You must have put a lot of work in on that.

SZ: Yeah, just overall play.  I try not to be like a one-dimensional player and I try to be as much of an overall player as I can be. BDN: Do you see yourself as you probably are going to put on weight, being more of an inside player or more of a stretch guy, or what do you see going forward?

SZ: I ultimately want to be a player that can do what I’m doing now, being able to face up, but better obviously.  And I, my main thing right now is I need to get stronger.

BDN: You in the weight room?

SZ: Yeah, I am.

BDN: Now, back to the scouting question.  If you’re the opposing coach, what do you see as issues with Zimmerman that you can attack or that he needs to work on?

SZ: I would say to force me right.  I’ve been working on that a lot, but it’ll take some time.  That’s the main thing.

BDN: What about defensively?  How are you feeling about your defensive game against some of the big guys inside?  You holding your own allright?

SZ:  Yeah, I think so.  My shot blocking makes up a little bit for the lack of strength, but you know, I am getting stronger.

BDN: I noticed too, you’ve got pretty good hops, so as you put weight on, so long as it’s good weight, if you keep your springs you’re going to be an outstanding shotblocker.

SZ: Yes.  The ultimate goal is to put positive weight on.

BDN: Now, tell me, of course a lot of the Duke fans are interested in the recruiting process for you.  What are some of the schools that have been coming at you hard, coming at you recently?  Can you give us a window into your recruiting process so far?

SZ: I recently got offers from Notre Dame, Florida State, and Tennessee.  Every school, all the schools that I have offers from are pretty much talking to me the same and recruiting me pretty hard.

BDN: Have you been on any either official or unofficial visits yet?

SZ: I’ve been on unofficials to UNLV, UCLA, and Arizona.

BDN: Have you had any contact with the Duke staff yet?

SZ:   My mom, my stepmom has, but I haven’t.

BDN: OK.  Has that been with Coach K or some of the other coaches on the staff, or –

SZ: It was an assistant coach, but I can’t remember which one.

BDN: What are your thoughts about a school like Duke should they become serious about you?  Is it a school you could see yourself getting serious about?

SZ: Yeah, they’re a great program and they have a great history.  Everyone knows Duke, so it’d be a great thing to have them on my list.

BDN: What type of role do you think you could play on a squad like Duke’s?  Obviously it depends on who else is on the team, but as far as the way your game would fit into the way Duke likes to play ball?

SZ: I like to be one of the main players.  I try to do it all, pass and rebound, stuff like that.  I try to make all the players around me better.

BDN: As a guy 6’11” – 7 feet, Duke has some pretty recent history, very recent history with guys your same size also very mobile, very agile, with those types of games.  I’m talking about the Plumlees.  You know, Miles Plumlee developed into a first round draft pick.  Mason Plumlee is going to be a first round draft pick, maybe even a lottery pick in the next couple of weeks.  The way that Duke has developed those guys, from where they started, into NBA ballplayers, does that have any kind of impact, or does everybody run their own race and you don’t worry too much about that?

SZ: Yeah, it does.  In college I want to get even better so I can make it to the pros someday and how schools develop their players and make them better is a big thing.

BDN: Quality of the coaching staff?

SZ: Yes.

BDN: As far as Coach K goes, the fact that he’s done the job with the Olympic team, with Team USA, and has had such success with really the greatest players in the world, forming them into a team, everybody with a role – does that have any kind of an impact in a positive way or would you be picking him as a college coach and the Olympic thing doesn’t mean as much?

SZ: Of course it does.  He’s been around the best players in the world and he’s a great coach and obviously they’re very successful.

BDN: It’s going to be awhile I’m sure before you get down to your choices.  Is location and geography going to be much of a factor for you coming from the west coast or are you going to be pretty open to schools around the country?

SZ: I think I’m gonna be pretty open.

BDN: Tell me, how do you do in school?

SZ: Pretty good.

BDN: What does that mean? (laughs)

SZ: (laughs) A’s, B’s and a C or two.

BDN: What are you getting a C in?

SZ: (laughs) Math is my worst subject.

BDN: Well, the fact that a number of schools, you mentioned Notre Dame and of course Duke and some others are challenging academically, that must mean that they believe you can handle the workload and that education must be important to you.

SZ: I don’t want a school that I can just perform in basketball.  I also want to go to a school where I can learn.

BDN: What are your plans for the rest of the summer in terms of basketball?

SZ:  Just getting better.  A lot of camps and –

BDN: Where are you going to be?

SZ: I’m gonna be at NBA Top 100 Camp and Adidas Nations and I’m not really sure about any of the other ones.  My parents really handle my schedule.

BDN: Do you go by Steve or Stephen?

SZ: Stephen.

BDN: Stephen.  Well it’s really good to meet you and I look forward to introducing Blue Devil Nation to you and I really appreciate the time.

SZ: Nice meeting you.