Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Where should Thon Maker spend the 2015-16 basketball season?
In the opinion of several NBA personnel, the 7-footer from Orangeville Prep (Ontario) who has been compared to Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett would be best served by going to college for at least a year, as opposed to playing professionally overseas.
“In my opinion he should go to college,” one NBA executive told SNY.tv. “It is a low-risk move. If he goes overseas you never know what kind of coaching he will get, what the strength program will be, etc. If he goes to college he is almost guaranteed to be coached well because of all of the top schools recruiting him, and those schools all have development programs in place. No guarantee of that anywhere else.”
Ed Smith, Maker’s guardian, previously told SNY.tv. that Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana and Duke were among the schools recruiting the 17-year-old Maker the hardest, and that they planned to take several college visits after the re-class decision. He also mentioned UCLA, Wake Forest and Missouri. Maker Tweeted Wednesday that he was on track to graduate.
“He is a gifted offensive player who plays out on the floor who can also score in the post, which college coaches can coach better than low-post bigs,” one veteran NBA scout said of Maker. “His game will translate at the college level and he will get much more exposure in college. It’s a better environment for him.”
Smith said he also planned to meet with NCAA officials to go over any potential amateurism issues that might arise for Maker, who was born in South Sudan and has lived in Australia, the U.S. and now Canada, and played high school basketball in the States and Canada.
If it appears Maker wouldn’t be cleared to play college basketball, Smith has said they would continue spending next year in Europe or China, a la Emmanuel Mudiay.
“But one thing, I don’t want him sitting any period of time,” Smith told me last month when Orangeville Prep was in New York at the Big Apple Invitational. “I will say this, I don’t want him sitting any period of time while any NCAA investigation is going on.”
At this point, Maker has been installed as the No. 10 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com.
It’s unclear what kind of deal he could get if he chose to spend next year overseas.
“I don’t think there will be a huge market for him, as a very thin 18-year old big man with limited playing experience against serious competition,” Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com said. “He’s a long ways away from being able to help a pro team competing against grown men at this stage in my opinion. But the fact that a international team could put a large NBA buyout in his contract (on a multi-year contract) and earn some nice cash on the deal could incentivize them to take the hit short term. He’s a very talented player but as we saw with Mudiay, most international teams build their roster with an eye on next weekend’s game so their patience level and long term vision isn’t anywhere close to that of NBA franchises.”
Mudiay, projected as the No. 3 pick in 2015, reportedly got $3 million to play in China, but one source said the gross was closer to $2 million and the net was “just over $1 million.” Maker could earn in that neighborhood if he went to China.
“There usually isn’t much of a market for young guys abroad,” one NBA scout said. “Mudiay was a unique situation. Maybe [Maker] can get $100,000 somewhere but it has to be a gimmicky place like China (where he could potentially get a lot more than that if he gets lucky and gets an offer there) since serious teams in Europe probably won’t want him on a one-year deal.”
The scout said it’s “possible” Maker could also “probably get a small shoe deal” in the low six-figure range.
Still, Maker seems to want to go the college route, which the scouts think would be the best bet, meaning he could wind up on the Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana or Duke campus by next fall, assuming he passes through the NCAA Clearinghouse.
“I’ve been watching college ball for a while,” Maker told ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello. “And it just causes me to think about that, reclassifying. So I can get ready for college ball.
“The college decision, I can’t wait for that,” he added. “That’s what I’m really focused on.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.