Thon 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?
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.