2014 UK commitment Towns eyes NCAA crown

broberts@herald-leader.comJune 16, 2013 

He remains the University of Kentucky's only basketball commitment for the Class of 2014, but Karl Towns isn't lonely.

Sure, the 7-footer from New Jersey would like to know who a few of his future teammates will be, but he's not concerned. Towns is positive John Calipari will line up another group of top-notch prospects to join him in Lexington a year from now.

In the meantime, he's enjoyed getting to know some of Calipari's most recent recruits.

Towns played for the World Select team during the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., earlier this spring. One of his teammates that weekend was Andrew Wiggins, who later signed with Kansas instead of UK. Three of Towns' opponents in the game were Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle — the Texas trio expected to lead the Cats to a ninth national championship next season.

Though he'll probably never play alongside the projected one-and-done lottery picks at UK, Towns said they formed an instant bond.

The players joked around all week, shared a few burgers and have kept a constant stream of communication ever since.

"Once you're a Kentucky Wildcat, everyone's just a big family," Towns said.

Towns' father, Karl Towns Sr., said his son keeps in regular contact with UK's incoming freshman. When the new Wildcats moved to Lexington to start summer workouts, Towns wished them well. When Towns traveled to Virginia for the NBPA Top 100 Camp over the weekend, they returned the favor.

"It's a family thing," Towns Sr. said.

Towns was busy with his high school team and arrived a couple days late to the Top 100 Camp, which is organized by the NBA Players' Association. When the future Cat finally showed up, he was the center of attention.

Camp organizers set up a formal press conference after his first game, the only player to get that distinction. Between Saturday's games, Towns played one-on-one with former NBA player Jerome Williams, who was one of the camp counselors.

It didn't take long for Towns' fellow campers to flock to the court, oohing and aahing over every possession.

"Everyone respects me for the school I'm going to," Towns said. "Everyone looks at Kentucky as a top-tier program, and I'm just trying to back up the reputation we've gathered."

The NBPA camp was one of the few national appearances Towns has made, an anomaly for a player considered to be one of the top five prospects in the entire class.

His high school team rarely plays outside of New Jersey. Unlike the vast majority of his peers, Towns has not competed on the AAU circuit. Instead, he's played the last two summers for Calipari and the Dominican national team (his mother is a native Dominican). He'll play for that squad — now coached by UK assistant Orlando Antigua — again later this summer.

Towns' absence from the national scene has turned him into somewhat of an unknown in recruiting circles. Many analysts have had to rely largely on video to scout his game, so the there were plenty of eyeballs on him when he took the court Friday night.

"He wanted to do this because people wanted to see him play," Towns Sr. said. "This is a big stage, so he wanted to make sure he came and showed people that he is as good as advertised."

He might have been good, but it wasn't exactly as advertised.

Towns has often been compared to NBA stars such as Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant — big, creative offensive players who can debilitate a defense with their outside shot.

The UK commitment looked more like at traditional center at this camp. That was partly by design.

Towns has been working hard in the weight room in an attempt to bulk up before he joins the Dominican training camp in early August. He's up to about 250 pounds, which is 15 more than he weighed around Christmas and substantially more than he carried at the beginning of his high school career.

After getting pushed around by his Dominican teammates and international opponents in limited playing time last summer, Towns figured he needed a little more heft.

"He's showed that he's got stronger," Towns Sr. said. "As everybody's seen now, he's taken his game to the block. He just wants to be more of a complete player."

The added weight hasn't taken away his versatility. Towns broke a school record for most three-pointers in a season during his freshman year, and both father and son say that outside game is still as good as ever.

That's what makes him such an intriguing prospect. It also makes him an intriguing piece for Calipari to build his 2014 recruiting class around.

Kentucky is firmly in the mix for several prominent post players in next year's class. There's No. 1 overall recruit Jahlil Okafor and fast-rising 7-footer Myles Turner — both traditional centers — as well as power forwards Cliff Alexander and Trey Lyles, who will both play quite a bit around the basket.

Scout.com analyst Evan Daniels said it would be easy to envision Towns playing alongside a player like Turner.

"I think they complement each other pretty well," Daniels said. "Karl stands out on the offensive end. ... Right now, Turner's strengths are on the defensive end. There couldn't be a frontcourt better than that one."

Fact is, you could probably pair up Towns with any of the aforementioned players and have the best frontcourt in college basketball.

UK's lone commitment is looking forward to knowing who will join him in next year's class. He followed the McDonald's All-American Game earlier this spring and saw the camaraderie shown by the six future Wildcats who palled around in Chicago during the all-star festivities.

He acknowledged it would be nice to have a little company when he plays in games like that next spring.

But when asked who he'd like to play with at the next level, Towns didn't mention any other 2014 prospects by name. Instead, he talked about a shared goal that whoever joins him in Lexington must have.

"I just want to play with people who want to win a championship," he said. "They want to go into the gym and work hard every day and want to win a championship — they're more than welcome to come to Kentucky with me."

Towns might arrive in Lexington as the crown jewel of the next great recruiting class. He might even be mentioned as the front-runner to be Calipari's next No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

But he says those things won't matter when he steps on Kentucky's campus next summer.

The only thing that will? Another banner in Rupp Arena.

"When I'm going to Kentucky, I'm only thinking of one thing and one thing only, and that's to win a championship," he said. "That's not to think about the NBA Draft, that's not to think about the NBA scouts, the GMs. What I'm there to do is win a championship. I'm so excited, and I just can't wait to go to Kentucky.

"I'm just there to give Kentucky what it deserves, and that's another championship."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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