POSTED: May 13, 2016 9:37 PM ET
Beyond The Paint: Thon Maker
David Aldridge sits down with Thon Maker, who could turn out to be one of the planet's next great players.
CHICAGO (AP) — The picture of the Larry O'Brien Trophy that is his phone's wallpaper could be Thon Maker's reminder to maintain his focus and not lose sight of his ultimate goal.
Or, maybe it just looks good.
"I've had this for two years," Maker said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine. "I love trophies. I collect them in my room. It's beautiful. It makes my phone look good."
Maker is one of the many prospects trying to look good for NBA executives in an effort to boost their stock in next month's draft. And he just might be the most intriguing of all, given where he came from and how he reached this point.
The 7-footer from South Sudan who moved to Australia as a child and had been living in Canada is poised to become the first player to jump from high school to the NBA in 11 years, after the league ruled him eligible for the draft a month ago.
"I was just praying and waiting to get in," said Maker, who had started working out in South Carolina when the decision came. "When I got accepted, I was really happy. My family called me. They said they read the good news online. Just had to be humbled knowing that now it's like you're starting your freshman year of high school. You've really got to go in there and just put a big goal in your mind just to get better and work as hard as you can."
Not since the league instituted a rule in the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement that U.S. players be at least 19 and one year removed from the graduation of their high school class, has a player made the leap from preps to the NBA. But Maker's case was open to interpretation.
He turned 19 in February and argued he actually earned his high school diploma in 2015, even though he spent a fifth year at Athlete Institute Prep in Mono, Ontario, about 90 minutes from Toronto.
He previously attended high schools in Louisiana and Virginia and when asked exactly how many places he has lived, he paused and shook his head.
"I don't know," Maker said. "Do your research."
The list starts with his birth in South Sudan and includes seven years in Australia before coming to North America. And no matter where he winds up playing, Maker figures there is at least one thing that won't faze him.
"There is not a weather condition that I haven't been in," Maker said. "It can't get any worse than Canada."
He said he has met with about 12 teams, including Boston, Charlotte, the Lakers, Portland and Oklahoma City.
Had he decided to go to college, he said he would have chosen among Arizona State, Kansas, Indiana and St. John's.
"Those are really good schools and it's not just because of basketball," he said. "I would have had to lean on my family for that one."
Maker believes he has a wide range of skills to make it in the NBA even though he is viewed as more of a project than a finished product. He insisted a team taking him will wind up with a "great player, a hard-working player."
Kentucky product Skal Labissiere counts Maker as one of his best friends and said: "I always check on him to see how he's doing. He's a very talented guy."
Marquese Chriss of Washington sees Maker as a player as an impact player who is "long, can shoot the ball. He's skilled."
Maker has been attracting attention for years, particularly after a mixtape that he said created misconceptions about his game started circulating online.
The video shows him dribbling behind the back, throwing down vicious dunks, nailing jumpers and layups and rejecting shot after shot. He looks like a cross between Dikembe Mutombo and Kevin Durant - pretty good company - in the video. But he also said it really does not reflect his game.
"People have got to stop mixtapes," he said. "That's not me. I'll bet you those people that put out those mixtapes never really sat through a game of mine and saw my defensive rotation, the way I communicate to my teammates, the way I pass the ball. They probably got the bad passes, the one-and passes, and didn't get the fundamental two-handed jump shot or skip passes. They don't get to see all that."