It was all wrong. A tall young man was dribbling the ball with his feet, and not with his hands.
Thon Maker was playing soccer, but Edward Smith was going to fix it.
“That’s it – you’re too tall,” Smith said. “Somebody will kick you in the legs and that’s it.”
Originally from Sudan, Maker said he moved to Australia when he was 7 to get a better education. Smith, who runs a program called Next Level Basketball Australia, heard about Maker and saw his raw potential.
So it became all about basketball. The sport wasn’t only for fun anymore.
After Maker did well against similarly aged players at a John Lucas camp in 2011 going into his 8th grade year, Smith thought it would be best for Maker to move to the United States to face better competition and help his basketball future.
Smith is Maker’s guardian here, though Maker still talks with his family, often through Facebook. Smith talked over a possible move with Maker’s family, ultimately taking him to the New Orleans area for a year before moving to Virginia. The 7-foot, 200-pound Maker currently plays for Carlisle School in Virginia. He’s a member of Boo Williams at this year’s Nike Peach Jam. Though Boo Williams had to forfeit wins at the Peach Jam due to using an ineligible player, Maker was not the ineligible participant.
“I was looking for a better education, and then I found basketball after that, also. So if I could mix both of them at the same time, and not fail one, that’s great. That’s what I’m chasing right now.”
The rising sophomore has become one of the most sought-after recruits in his 2016 class. Just this week, on Thursday, he went up against Jahlil Okafor at the Peach Jam. Against the No. 1 player in the 2014 class – an older player who’s listed as weighing 75 more pounds than Maker – Maker recorded a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Though Okafor did score a bucket in the final minute against Maker, the 7-footer calmly and smoothly made two foul shots to provide the game’s final two points. He also blocked two shots against Mac Irvin Fire, which was one of the teams Boo Williams defeated but then had to lose to by forfeit.
“It’s tough, because you got some of the top players in the whole country,” Maker said. “Which is a good thing – that’s the level of competition that everybody’s talking about. But I’m not scared of that.”
Both Maker and Smith listed Duke, Kansas and Kentucky among the interested schools. Right now, Smith is handling Maker’s recruitment as Maker continues to adjust to living in the United States. Smith listed Arizona, LSU and Virginia as some schools that have already offered. Maker doesn’t have a favorite right now, though he does remember watching college basketball on DVDs his coach brought him. He doesn’t remember the year, but there was a Kentucky-Vanderbilt game, and an Ohio State game.
But Maker still has a soft spot for soccer – Smith said Maker is an Arsenal fan “to the death” and still watches games – and his time in the sport has made a difference. Maker is a runner, chasing dribblers down the court for a block and displaying great lateral movement.
Smith sees an incredibly bright future for Maker. Smith has already seen the likes of Ater Majok (Connecticut) and Majok Majok (Ball State) go from the Sudan to Australia to the United States.
But out of all the ones he saw, Smith think Maker has the most upside.
“He was thin as a rail, but he had this belief. He was throwing his body in the mix, with socks up to his knees. He thought he was tough,” Smith said. “He thought he belonged.”