UK Recruiting

Cousin of NBA player rocketing up the rankings (and onto UK’s recruiting radar)

Justus: Kentucky a place where you get better and play around great players

Kentucky basketball assistant Joel Justus offers a recruiting pitch of sorts, saying that Kentucky isn't just for the one-and-done type players.
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Kentucky basketball assistant Joel Justus offers a recruiting pitch of sorts, saying that Kentucky isn't just for the one-and-done type players.

When the Rivals.com basketball rankings for the 2020 recruiting class were released last week, no player made a more dramatic move than Makur Maker, who went from unlisted to the No. 15 overall spot in the country.

Those who have seen him play recently expect Maker to rise even higher.

Though the 7-footer has a familiar last name — he’s the cousin of NBA player Thon Maker and former top 100 recruit Matur Maker — and began his high school career in California, he’s still a bit of a mystery to recruiting analysts.

Makur Maker took a similar path to American basketball as his cousins, leaving his native South Sudan at an early age and spending much of his childhood in Australia before starting his freshman season in the United States. From there, he moved to Canada — staying largely under the college basketball recruiting radar — and sat out all of last season.

Maker re-emerged a few weeks ago as a standout player for Orange Lutheran High School in the Los Angeles area and has become somewhat of a recruiting sensation in the time since. UK is among the schools that have inquired about his basketball future, and analysts see major upside in his growing game.

“At least in the class of 2020, I don’t see many guys that are as unique as him, in terms of, ‘Who’s a guy that plays a position that does a lot of things that other dudes don’t do?’” Rivals.com national analyst Eric Bossi told the Herald-Leader. “He’s every bit of 7 feet, so he’s got to be a center, to me. He handles the ball very, very well. He can step out and legitimately shoot the three. He can run the floor. He’s not like a skywalker or anything like that, but he’s 7-feet tall and has a 7-foot-6, 7-foot-7 wingspan, so how high do you need to jump when you’re that big?

“He’s just different to me. I love watching the way he can get from one rim to another. He can keep up with a fast-pace game. He’s unique.”

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Bossi is among the few analysts that have seen Maker play recently, and he singled him out as the prospect he fears Rivals.com ranked too low in its recent update. “Makur is eventually going to compete for the national top five,” Bossi wrote last week, noting that he understood his colleagues’ reluctance to rate a player so highly on such a small sample size.

Maker does appear to be a rare talent, though, even bringing an unsolicited comparison from the veteran recruiting analyst.

“It’s always dangerous when you start throwing around comparisons,” Bossi said. “Because so many times you make a comparison and people say, ‘Oh, that’s crazy. He’s nothing like him.’ Well, you’re not saying he’s as good as. But I look at the way Joel Embiid is used by the Philadelphia 76ers — for a guy that size, it’s incredible how well he changes the floor. He can trail and hit a three-pointer on the fast break. He’s just a unique guy in what he does, and I see some of those characteristics (in Makur). And with his body type, I see a guy who maybe won’t be able to be as hulking as Joel Embiid, but can be a big, strong, burly guy like that, too.

“So it’s not a full-on comparison, but I do see some things that he does that are kind of similar to what makes Embiid so good.”

Ed Smith, who oversaw Thon and Matur’s youth basketball careers, is also guiding Makur through the early process. He recently said that UK assistant coach Kenny Payne has inquired about Maker’s recruitment, and he’s also told national recruiting sites that — unlike cousins Thon and Matur, who jumped straight to the pros — Makur fully intends on going to college first.

“They are both adamant that he will be in 2020,” Bossi said of Smith and Makur, who is already 18 years old and was originally in the 2019 class before transferring back to the United States from Canada and missing all of last season.

His age and previous classification have led to speculation that he might reclassify back to 2019, allowing him to play college basketball next season. UK is still looking for frontcourt difference-makers for next season, but all signs — at the moment — point to him sticking in 2020. Other schools involved with Makur include Kansas, Oregon, Southern Cal and UCLA.

Bossi said Smith doesn’t want to “push him too fast” through the high school experience. He also noted that the Makers’ adviser has a track record of shooting it straight with the previous recruitments of Thon and Matur, even though both ultimately ended up skipping college.

“He’s always been honest with me. I don’t feel he’s every misled me on anything, so if that’s how he says they feel, that’s what I believe they feel right now,” said Bossi, who added that Thon, now in his third season with the Milwaukee Bucks, felt he had missed out on the college experience. “I think, because of that, making sure that Makur gets a college experience, at least right now, is something that’s really important to them.”

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