Karl Towns had no choice but to blow up early. A phenom who burst onto the radar during 2011, Towns at that time represented the Class of 2015 and loomed as the potential No. 1 player in the class.
Even back in 2011, Towns already stood 6-10 and possessed the style and skills that would define his game into the present. He had arrived at Metuchen (N.J.) St. Joseph and impressed at the Hoop Group Tip-off Classic, among other events. He averaged a double-double during the 2011-12 season and helped lead his squad to a state championship.
As one would expect, his recruitment blew up immediately and never diminished prior to his commitment. High-majors throughout the country made their best pitch to lock up a franchise big man early. Kentucky enjoyed a leg up because John Calipari coached the Dominican national team in 2012, forging a bond between the two that ultimately would stand true.
Towns then announced two decisions that December. First, he made public his long-expected decision to re-classify to the 2014 crop. And second, he made his choice for Kentucky official as well. He became the first 2014 commitment for the Wildcats, and he immediately slotted into the top 10 of his new class.
Radio silence then greeted the grassroots world. Towns became scarce on the travel circuit, causing many to wonder how he'd developed alongside his peers. He did make an appearance at the NBPA Top 100 Camp this past June, however, and there he proved to be as skilled as ever.
He enters his senior season prepared to showcase his skills to eager Wildcat fans and likely will enjoy numerous postseason All-American awards next spring.
Some of the other big men atop the class apply physical dominance, but Towns doesn't function in that capacity despite standing 6-11, 245 pounds. He boasts such expansive skill that he doesn't need to rely on brute force, even though his solid frame may enable him to add that component over time.
Towns boasts highly impressive footwork and excellent hands. He moves very nimbly around post defenders, and even when taking a long step forward off the dribble remains under control to loft in a touch shot at close-range. Little plays like that may sound easy, but few athletes that size possess the balance, agility and coordination to complete them.
He's also a refined jump shooter. Towns projects as an outstanding weapon in pick-and-pop situations because he sets a solid screen and then aligns himself for smooth jumpers off the pass. His range actually extends all the way to the three-point arc, though in college he's certainly likely to remain closer to the rim.
Though he prefers to face, he has improved his post game and now wields an effective jump hook with either hand.
His defense also has improved. Towns utilizes his size to thwart would-be drivers and has solid timing for blocks and rebounds. Offense currently is the name of his game, but eventually he should become more balanced.
Towns doesn't possess great athleticism. In fact, by NBA benchmarks, it's probably downright substandard. He lumbers more than the other elite big men in the senior class and doesn't throw down slams with the same flourish as some of his contemporaries.
For that reason, then, many wonder how he'll fare against the world's most superior jumbo athletes. He does possess those outstanding skills, of course, and continuing to develop a power, back-to-the-basket scoring attack — given his frame, that should be easily attainable — could be critical.
Towns simply is too skilled not to enjoy long-term success. Thinking more immediately for college, his size and skill will make him nearly an impossible matchup. But his complete arsenal likely will feature more prominently down the road, when he spends more time on the perimeter at the professional leel.
The athleticism issue does belong in the conversation and could force Towns into more of a finesse role than would be ideal, but with strength and experience he could mitigate some of those concerns in the post. Even if he doesn't become an NBA superstar, he should enjoy ample success over the next decade and longer.