Getting to Know NBA Draft Mystery Man Thon Maker
YouTube hoops fans already know Thon Maker. At least, they think do. His three-minute mixtape of 2014 went viral, introducing millions to a 7-1 phenom that could dunk with force, shoot from deep and drive with grace.
What it didn't show was his ready smile, one that traveled with him from South Sudan to Australia at age five, stayed with him en route to the United States and Canada, and remains ready at a moment's notice now that he is weeks away from his NBA dream.
For many kids, moving to a different neighborhood can be traumatic. For Maker, each continental jump was just another step to be made with a smile.
"Every single move was big, and it all happened smoothly," Maker told Suns.com. "I fit in very well in every single place I've been to. It's been fun going through it. I tend to stay in contact with everyone I've met along the way.
"I'm a likable person," Maker added before quickly finishing, "That doesn't mean I'm not competitive when it comes to basketball."
NBA teams like Maker as well. A seven-footer with his raw athleticism and unteachable touch doesn't come along every day. What they want to know now is how he plays between the highlights. Phoenix got their chance to find out during Monday's pre-draft workout.
How did Maker want to prove that he is more than a YouTube clip?
"That I can play the game the right way at all times," Maker told Suns.com.
Doing so against elite, college-level competition is the newest challenge for the 19-year-old. After graduating from high school in 2015, the Sudan-born prospect studied a fifth year at preparatory school in Canada. His age, combined with being one NBA season removed from graduation, made him draft-eligible despite not playing college basketball or professionally overseas.
Now, he finds himself competing for a team's attention against equally tall – and sometimes stronger – opponents.
"There are other big guys, guys my size," Maker said after With the bigger guys you've got to use your quickness, your speed and just outwork them on that, just keep playing...I've just got to read the mismatches."
Such is the luxury of Maker's still-growing skill set, one to which he holds himself accountable. He was openly disappointed with how he shot the ball in the final set of drills on Monday, knowing he is capable of more. He has also taken up the call to put on more bulk, slowly adding muscle to his teenage frame. He weighed in at 216 pounds at the Draft Combine in Chicago two weeks ago, and that number should go up even more before training camp this fall.
"He's a very skilled player," said Suns assistant general manager Pat Connelly. "He's very good with the ball for his size. He shot it pretty well. He plays really hard."
Maker's competitiveness is likely his most NBA-ready asset. He is obsessed with winning, and is not afraid to express it vocally, whether it's with teammates or officials.
"Sometimes I got into it with some of the refs," he laughed. "I've got to keep my composure, cool down and have fun."
Pre-draft workout scrimmages (up to 3-on-3) give teams a feel not only for how he plays individually, but how he communicates with teammates. Despite consistently being one of the youngest participants in his workout groups, Maker is not shy about loudly quarterbacking the defense.
"It's the same language in basketball [regardless of age]," Maker said. "I talk to anyone. If they're slacking on defense, you've got to tell them so they can pick it up. I want to win."
Proving he can help an NBA team win is the next step. Maker is intent on proving he can by balancing passion and poise on the court – while still having a ready smile off of it.
"I've just got to go out and play and not try to prove anything, any certain part more than any other one," Maker said. "I've got to play the total package of the game and keep my composure, find my middle and compete at all times."