Kentucky's loss to the Dominican Republic National Team in the Bahamas hit home for Karl-Anthony Towns. Two reasons:
1. As an up-and-coming prospect, he chose to try out for the Dominican Republic National Team in addition to progressing through the customary AAU circuit.
2. He was supposed to be defending Jack Michael Martinez, who hit the winning shot (a fadeaway from the middle of the lane) in the final seconds.
"One great play that was a secret in the Dominican playbook," Towns said with a good-natured smile, "and it hit me off guard."
To put it gently, Martinez enjoyed hitting the game winner.
"Believe me, I know," Towns said. "He was very, very happy."
Martinez apparently shared his happiness with Towns.
"Believe me, he said something to me," Towns said. "There's no Dominican that's going to let a game winner go by without saying something to another Dominican."
When asked what Martinez said to him, Towns turned diplomat. "Let's just put it this way," he said. "He was very happy. And I was very upset."
After hitting the shot, Martinez moved toward the sideline across from the Kentucky bench and looked up at UK Coach John Calipari at the top of the bleachers. He made a gesture that could be interpreted as lights out. As he boarded the team bus later that day, Martinez said he did not mean to taunt anyone. It was all in fun, he said.
Towns accepted that explanation.
"Jack Michael Martinez is the captain," he said. "He's the man. I learned so much from him. He's such a confident player. One of the biggest things I learned from the Dominican team is just confidence. Just go out there and play with full confidence, and you'll play to the best of your abilities."
Towns spoke of his time with the Dominicans as an invaluable aid in his basketball development.
"I felt my game would grow way more playing (against) professionals than playing AAU," he said. "If I had to go back in time, I'd do the same thing, just play with the pro team just to raise my game both physically and mentally."
In the 2013 FIBA Americas Championships in Caracas, Venezuela, Towns averaged 4.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and 8.4 minutes.
Towns recoiled when asked if his participation with the Dominican National Team reflected a dissatisfaction with AAU basketball.
"No, no, no," he said. "AAU has been awesome to me. It's grown me as a player tremendously.
"But when you get a chance to play against Al Horford every day in practice ... and Jack Michael Martinez, who is an international superstar, when you get chances like that, it's hard to turn down. Also it's one of those times you get to play against talent you haven't gotten to play against."
Horford, a member of Florida's national championship teams in 2006 and 2007, plays for the Atlanta Hawks. He's an all-pro quality player.
"Al Horford taught me everything he knows," Towns said. "How to play more physical. How to be a smarter player. How to set picks that are more effective. That's the biggest thing."
Martinez has played professionally in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Italy, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Such experience leads to insight.
"Just a lot of tricks of the trade," Towns said of what he learned from Martinez. "Big-time tricks of the trade."
Apparently, the schooling included that game-winning shot against Kentucky, of which Towns said, "He did hit us with one of the tricks of the trade."