UK Men's Basketball

Thon Maker back in Kentucky, but UK no longer involved in his recruitment

Thon Maker readied to shoot a free throw at the adidas Gauntlet Dallas in April last year.
Thon Maker readied to shoot a free throw at the adidas Gauntlet Dallas in April last year. adidas

Five-star high school basketball recruit Thon Maker made his third appearance at the Marshall County Hoop Fest on Friday night.

Maker — a 7-footer originally from Sudan and now playing his second season with Athlete Institute (Ont.) — has become a mainstay on the high school showcase circuit in Kentucky, but it seems increasingly unlikely that he will play his college ball in the state.

Ed Smith, the player’s guardian, told the Herald-Leader after Friday’s game that Arizona State, Indiana and Kansas are the three schools recruiting Maker the hardest. Smith also said he couldn’t remember the last time they heard from anyone on UK’s coaching staff.

I think if (UK) were recruiting him, they would be calling and so forth.

Ed Smith, Thon Maker’s guardian

“I don’t know where they are with their process, but I haven’t heard anything from them,” Smith said. “I think if they were recruiting him, they would be calling and so forth. So we’ll see.”

Maker had 24 points and 15 rebounds in Athlete Institute’s 72-69 loss to Curie (Ill.) on Friday night at the Hoop Fest. He was 8-for-13 from the field and 8-for-13 from the free-throw line, scoring on a series of thunderous dunks but also showing flashes of the floor game that made him a YouTube sensation since early in his high school career. ranks Maker as the No. 5 overall prospect in the class of 2016.

Kentucky has long been mentioned as a player in Maker’s recruitment, and he visited Rupp Arena with his little brother — class of 2017 standout Matur Maker — for a UK game last season.

Thon Maker mentioned UK as one of the six schools on his radar during a nationally televised interview with ESPN last month and again Friday night, but Smith handles the majority of the communication with college coaches, and no one from the Wildcats’ staff has visited Maker during the fall recruiting period.

At this point, UK might simply be all full in the frontcourt for the 2016-17 season.

Current freshman Isaac Humphries is too young to be eligible for next year’s draft and will return for a sophomore season at UK. New Zealand power forward Tai Wynyard is joining the Cats’ roster for the second half of this season and will also be back in 2016-17.

I’m not coming to sit. I’m not coming off the bench. I’m coming in to play and make a run, non-stop.

Thon Maker

UK has also signed two five-star frontcourt players — Edrice “Bam” Adebayo and Sacha Killeya-Jones — for the class of 2016, which also includes 6-10 small forward Wenyen Gabriel, who is capable of playing in the post.

Add the possible return of junior power forward Marcus Lee, and UK appears to have more than enough options for next season.

As UK’s communication with Maker has cooled, Arizona State has emerged as a consensus favorite in his recruitment. That’s due primarily to Maker’s existing relationship with new Sun Devils assistant coach Brian Merritt, a former camp director for John Lucas who became an influential part of Maker’s basketball life shortly after he arrived in the United States.

Whichever school lands Maker will have to wait a little while for the news. He said Friday that he doesn’t expect to make a decision until he sees what the 2016-17 roster for each of the schools on his list will look like.

Already projected as a first-round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Maker says he also wants to play a pivotal role from the beginning of his college career.

“I’m not coming to sit. I’m not coming off the bench,” he said. “I’m coming in to play and make a run, non-stop.”

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats