ASU relationships strong with Maker

What makes Arizona State a serious contender in the sweepstakes for five-star 7-footer Thon Maker? It comes down to longstanding relationships.

During one of five-star Thon Maker's AAU games in Las Vegas late last month, Arizona State coaches Bobby Hurley, Brian Merritt and Levi Watkins sat along the baseline watching the 7-foot-0 power forward display the talent that makes him the No. 8 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class.

On the other side of the gym, almost directly across from the ASU staff sat the mentor and guardian of Maker, Ed Smith. Next to Smith sat former NBA player and coach John Lucas, head of the prominent camps the bear his name.

ASU's presence as heavy figure in the recruitment of Maker originates from two things, primarily: First, Merritt is extremely close with Lucas, having been the Director of Scouting/Recruiting for John Lucas Enterprises immediately prior to taking the job with the Sun Devils. In that capacity, he's known Maker and Smith.

“Brian was actually the first guy that invited Thon to the middle school camp from Australia," Smith said. Actually he was invited his cousin (Chiir Maker) who is going to Portland, he was inviting him and he wasn’t able to come, had some things to do, I mentioned Thon, said he’s really good. So he went, had a great camp at Lucas Camp and we had a great relationship ever since. Brian is someone we respect a lot and appreciate for everything he's done to help not only Thon, but so many kids like him."

The second reason ASU is in serious contention for Maker is Hurley, and the proximity of the coach's former home, the University of Buffalo, to Orangeville, Ontario, Canada. That's where Maker -- who is an Australian native -- and Smith live.

“We are in Canada so we had a chance to go see his program in Buffalo," Smith said. "I’ve been doing this about 30 years now, I like guys who get on the floor with their players or have a staff who can get on the floor with their players. I’ve seen coach Hurley working with his players. A lot of guys work Xs and Os, coach Hurley does that but he spends a lot of time on skill development, player development and from there he built his program.

"And then his tree, from his father (legendary New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley Sr.) to (Duke) coach [Mike Krzyzewski) and now what he’s doing, you can’t really beat that as far as a pedigree. If Thon went there he’d be able to carve his own space, but we’ll see how it goes. If it’s a good fit, it’s a good fit. It’s all about the fit.”

Maker is visiting his family in Australia and spending about six weeks decompressing from the summer basketball grind. He'll subsequently get a couple long weekends in Houston working with Lucas. Then, he'll get back to school, where Maker's done well enough, according to Smith, that finishing up won't be a challenge and he'll have time to spend on figuring out where he'll attend college.

"There are five or six schools we'll really consider," Smith said. "It's about finding coaches who understand how to use Thon and get the most out of him through that approach and then also with how they play and teach. ASU is definitely one of those schools. We visited some of them already and will get to four or five at least to get a complete feel. He's done all his core courses, so he has the time."

In addition to ASU, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA are other schools in contention. There may be others to garner serious contention as well as the process unfolds. Wherever Maker ends up, Smith said the program will be getting a highly focused and team-oriented player.

“I think he’s a good teammate," Smith said. "That’s one of the most important things. You have to understand how to play basketball with your demeanor also. You can’t be too high or too low and conduct yourself the right way on and off the court. I think that’s an area he’ll be special. And then as a talent standpoint, the higher the level he goes, the better they’ll know how to use him. When you have bigs who create space, he can break the defense down and create plays for himself and others. He's a special type of player, and can be part of a special college team if everything falls in place."

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