High School Basketball

Thon Maker, 2016's No. 1 basketball prospect, playing in Bluegrass Showcase at Dunbar

Kentucky recruiting target Thon Maker (24) is a 7-foot-1 high school junior who can pass, shoot, block shots, run the floor and give defenders fits with ball-handling skills.
Kentucky recruiting target Thon Maker (24) is a 7-foot-1 high school junior who can pass, shoot, block shots, run the floor and give defenders fits with ball-handling skills. ASSOCIATED PRESS

If YouTube video views are any indication, the most famous high school basketball player in the world is coming to Lexington this weekend.

Thon Maker has been a phenomenon on the prep circuit for years, long enough to inspire a library of online highlight mixtapes that have been seen a total of nearly 10 million times.

People are watching because few have seen anything like him — a 7-foot-1 player who can pass, shoot, block shots, run the floor and give defenders fits with ball-handling skills that at times make him look more point guard than post player.

Orangeville Prep Coach Larry Blunt has had Maker for only a couple of months, but he's already seen enough to throw his name into the mix with some of the greats.

"When it's all said and done, I think he will be a person that people say has transcended basketball," Blunt told the Herald-Leader. "I think he's a hybrid of a lot of really great players.

"I tell people that he has the intensity of Kevin Garnett. He has the passing feel and ability of someone like Kevin Love. ... I think he scores like Tim Duncan, in creative ways and very fundamentally sound."

Rivals.com ranks Maker as the No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2016. ESPN had him in the same position until his recent decision to leave the United States and play for Orangeville Prep, an emerging program based in Ontario. (ESPN does not rank "international" players).

Maker, who will play Friday and Saturday in the Bluegrass Showcase at Paul Laurence Dunbar, was pursued by the top prep schools in the United States after spending the past two seasons at The Carlisle School in Virginia.

He declined the traditional powers and joined up with Orangeville, which is tied to the Athlete Institute basketball academy and offers some off-the-court developmental programs not seen at many other schools.

The perks include a nutritionist and full-time strength and conditioning coach — exactly what Maker needs to take his game to the next level.

His guardian, Edward Smith, said over the summer that preparing Maker's body for "the rigors of college basketball" would be crucial in his development as a player. Blunt said Maker, who was listed at 200 pounds over the summer, has already put on 10 pounds since arriving in Canada in September.

"That's one of the areas that he's really focused on," he said. "He's trying to continue to gain strength and you can already see some progress toward that."

Maker's move to Canada also means he'll be surrounded by a talented cast of teammates this season.

UNLV signee Jalen Poyser is one of the top 100 players in the class of 2015. Point guard Jamal Murray is a five-star prospect in the junior class who was MVP of last year's Jordan Brand Classic international game and had a good showing as the second-youngest player at last season's Nike Hoop Summit.

"Jamal is a throwback player," Blunt said. "He is incredibly competitive. He can really, really score the basketball on really big stages."

And Maker will be playing alongside a familiar face: his younger brother Matur, a 6-9 standout from the class of 2017 who is already emulating some of his sibling's best attributes.

"If you asked the guys in our program, I think most people would say that he's our most improved player," Blunt said of Matur. "His God-given abilities are second to none. He's a legit 6-9, he runs like a guard, he changes directions and can move. He really plays above the rim and he's starting to shoot it.

"He sometimes even plays the point for us. At his size, that's really unheard of."

Thon Maker holds scholarship offers from Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Louisville, Arizona and just about every other major program in the country, meaning there has already been plenty of speculation about where he'll be playing next.

There's also the question of "when" he'll move on to the next level.

Maker and his guardian haven't been shy about the possibility that he could reclassify, graduate from high school early and begin his college career next season.

That remains an option but it's still in the discussion phase.

"He's such a good student and he's taking a heavier course load to where — if that is a good option — it's something that he'll be able to consider," Blunt said. "But there's no (decision) to this point. As far as we know, Thon is prepared to stay in the 2016 class."

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