One on one with Thon Maker

The Blue Devils have already landed the nation's top big man in the class of 2014, and Duke is now also putting in time with the top big man in the class of 2016. We spoke with five star center Thon Maker and his guardian about the early recruiting process, the interest from Duke, and his extended conversations with Coach K.

It's been a while since we had an update, have you had a chance to make any visits of late?

Ed Smith, Maker's legal guardian: Yeah we did, we actually visited Duke, but the season has already started now.  

When did you get to visit Duke?

Thon Maker: We actually stopped by to visit while they were having the Countdown to Craziness. We took in Cameron and all that.

What did you think about the Cameron Indoor atmosphere?

Maker: Oh yeah, it was nice, it was real nice. They showed a really nice welcoming there and we talked to the coach a little bit, and that was a good experience also. We talked with Coach K, it was a great experience.

What made talking with Coach K a great experience for you?

Maker: He gave me some good advice, he told me to surround myself with good people, you know, humble people, hardworking people because they will be able to push me also and help me to not settle and he also told me to work out with the right players and to play with the right team.

Did he give any early indication on how the program felt about you?

Maker: Yeah, he also gave me some compliments saying how hard I worked and he that he seen me during the EYBL season and he saw me at several games. He told me that I heart and that I challenge every player and I don't take plays off and I work hard.

What did you take away from the conversation?

Maker: It means people actually are watching you, not that I was doubting that in the first place, it just lets me know that anybody can be watching me and what I do, so I can't let up, I have to work hard every time like I always do and things will come to fruition.

Did Coach K say anything to you about how they want the recruiting process to move forward with you?

Maker: They said they are going to come to several of my games this season and that I'm welcome to come down during the season for some games.

Ed Smith: We have a busy schedule this season, so whenever we can squeeze in games, that's when we'll look at it.

Has Coach K discussed a scholarship offer at all for Thon?

Thon: That's a question that my guardian, Ed Smith can answer.

Ed Smith: No, we didn't get to that, I think it was more, he's a young guy, it's a long process, he said that Thon reminds him of Kevin Garnett, he loves his work ethic.

  What did you guys think of that Kevin Garnett comparison?

Ed Smith: Well I mean, that's off the chart in terms of talking about Hall of Fame level, you are talking about a guy who plays the game the right way, with passion, every play, every practice, he plays to win, and to be compared to that echelon of player, that's really great and we were excited about that.

  Coach Smith, are there are new scholarship offers that have been put on the table for Thon by any schools?

Ed Smith: No, not really in terms of offers, we've been so busy, I just went in the office and picked up a bunch of letters, I know Villanova has sent stuff, I speak with Villanova, Northwestern, Arizona's in there, we've just been getting ready for the season and the recruiting process is really just getting started, you know ? He's 2016, we'll start really seeing and letting people know where we are in terms of the process in April after this high school season, just so we can give Thon a chance to really sit down and focus.

Since you guys have had the opportunity to visit schools already so early in your process, based on what you've seen so far, are there any schools that stick out?

Ed Smith: Yeah, we have, I would say, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona, and Virginia.

  Have any of those schools put scholarship offers on the table?

Ed Smith: We know Arizona has offered in the past, Virginia, a lot of guys will say, there's a scholarship here when you are ready, but I've heard that before, but I think during the offer process, when it's time to get that official scholarship offer, it's gotta come from the head coach. People may have offered already, but we're not really concentrating on that right now, so that's why I don't ask them that question because it's so early in the process. When you are talking with the assistants and they say that some kind of offer is there, that's great, but you need to officially hear it from the head guy, what their plans are, that's when I can say, there's a solid, official offer there, there's a consideration of the offer being made by the assistants and then there's a different consideration when an offer is extended from the head guy. We're not about just getting as many offers as we can get in this process, we've always said that as we go through this, eventually we're going to streamline the process and get to a Top 5. We're really impressed with what happened with Duke and with Kansas, how I remember Coach K saying that he had improved himself by coaching Team USA and it really shows in the way he puts Jabari Parker in a position to be successful by running the offense through him. It really shows in that, and you also see with Kentucky that they really go through their pros, they get their pros their ball. With Arizona, Kansas, they are a lot more in terms of a collective, which is good. We are really valuing those guys in terms of how they are using pros because we see that they have those high major kids that play with high major kids and are put in good positions.

From a recruiting class perspective, does Thon prefer the idea of being the featured guy, or perhaps teaming up with other high majors?

Ed Smith: I think the big thing is you can, like Duke and Kentucky, they have really, really good players, right ? But they still have guys that are the main guys, the best players, like Julius Randle, he's the main guy. Jabari Parker is the main guy, you know? In terms of being the main guy, you have to work to earn that, you have to really step up if you are going to be that much better than all the other guys. You earn that reward of being used as the main guy.

How much are you guys going to be paying attention to what Jahlil Okafor does next year at Duke?

Maker: We will definitely pay attention that, that was a surprising, very surprising, I was surprised when they both went there but it also wasn't as surprising because of Jabari having gone there.

What did make it surprising to you Thon that Jahlil and Tyus chose Duke?

Maker: I wasn't so much surprised because they had already recruited Jabari before them and he had committed to them and was able to play with them this year. He's making it look as if they recruited both of them which he did, I just think a lot of people thought they were going to go somewhere else. Tyus fits their system and Jahlil does also.

What's your thoughts on the Duke system now that you have seen it in action?

Ed Smith: We've really seen it this year, it's really different, it's a different team this year, Coach K coaches the team based on the talent that he has and his ability to adjust in terms of adapting to his players is great. Like Jabari, he's not a 5 man, he's a 4, a versatile, stretch 4, he's going to do his work in that area, there's utilization in that 4 spot for Jabari in that he's not like Ryan Kelly where he spreads the floor and trails, he's got a lot of elbow action, screens, making the defense have to try and guard him, which makes it hard for teams to guard him.

What's a good role for Thon in college from your perspective?

Ed Smith: Thon will be a combination of a Kevin Garnett and a Kevin Durant, he's a player who you can run at the 4, he can run stuff at the elbow, in the mid-post, he can stretch the defense by hitting the 3. There's so much you can do with him if you are really creative as a coach, he can do a lot, he can really put the defense at a disadvantage because of his ability, he can make plays for others. He can pass and he has understanding on how to play. Coming from an international perspective, playing with skill guys early, in that system, kids have to learn how to play because when you see a bunch of 14 year olds learn how to run offense with a shot clock, how to play with structure, so you can see that Thon is ready to play at a high level.

Have you guys formed any opinions yet on who you think would do a good job utilizing Thon in college?

Ed Smith: If you are looking at the schools, if it were today, we would say we're looking at how Kentucky plays right now, we're looking at how Duke plays, Kansas runs some really great stuff, we're just getting access to Arizona to see what they run, so we just have to watch more basketball, so we can't say at this point because we have to see where guys are going to be this year.

  Once the process progresses, what kind of factors will be at play when narrowing down the list?

Ed Smith: That's a good question and we're thinking about their personnel, like who would they have, you can't be the only guy out there, there has to be a supporting cast, you want to make sure they play a lot of man to man defense and that he could play multiple positions, those are some factors you know ? There's a lot of things on the checklist that you go through. Another thing that a lot of people don't think about is are the schools a place that you could return to, that it's a real family, I think a lot of people don't realize, a kid goes to school, no matter how long he stays, that's a big-time part of your life, so we have to take basketball out of the equation and ask, is this place a community, is this a place I can call home, a home away from home ?

  Following up on your last response, do you guys think Thon is likely a one and done player in college?

Ed Smith: Every kid wants to be a one and done player and you can get caught up in that trap, in terms of that's what kids want. We take it day by day, moment by moment and we build on those moments. Now, if the opportunity comes and he is good enough, then so be it, but he's not running towards that and he hasn't made that determination because he enjoys the academic process. I will say this, I don't expect him to be there more than three years if he can graduate in three.

With graduation being several years away for Thon, how much do you think it will affect Thon's recruiting process if the NBA decides to change their rules and allow guys to declare for the draft straight out of high school?

Ed Smith I think so, because just thinking realistically, 7-footers who can do what he does are at a premium and sometimes I feel coaches have come in the gym, I won't say their names, but they will say, I'm not going to recruit him because some people think the rules are going to be changed and they will say, 'we're not even going to see you in college'. Again, you don't want kids just thinking about going pro, basketball is a process and it's that kind of thought that can put kids in situations. The only thing you can control is how hard you work and at the end of the day, if I can go pro and the NBA people say I could be a lottery pick, at this stage, then you have to say ok and if you can have a career, then you should go. But in terms of your apprenticeship, your training, if you are in the lottery, they want you to have that training on the court right away and learn on the job. So until you are good enough for that, you have to wait and see how much you've matured and what college can do for you in terms of maturing through the process because in the pros, you are around grown men and there's a lot to be said in terms of going to college and having that experience.

Also with the recruiting process, how much are you guys paying attention to what the other big name guys in Thon's class are going through in their recruitments?

Ed Smith: We look at the class of 2015 and class of 2016 and we look at guys in 2014 who might be staying over. A lot of kids, I haven't seen in person, some of the top kids in 2016 I haven't seen because we've played up and some of those kids haven't played up in terms of this year, so we haven't had a chance to see all of the top guys with the top age ranges yet.

  Is there anybody in 2015  or 2016 that catches your attention and makes you wonder about Thon possibly playing with them in college?

Ed Smith: I think Malik Newman with the Jackson Tigers, they might be able to play real well together out of 2015.

  What are your thoughts on Harry Giles and possibly playing together since him and Thon are commonly discussed as two of the best in their class?

Ed Smith: Harry's a different type of player, we had a chance to practice with him in EYBL. Harry's a really good player, and they are two different players, so yeah, of course they could play together because their skill sets are completely different.

You have to see what happens with Harry and how he recovers. Like if you look at Harry Giles, they could work together, Harry would benefit from playing with Thon because Thon attracts so much attention. If you cover Thon one on one, I don't think there's very many guys who could handle Thon one on one and I think it's a great situation for guys who will play around Thon because he's willing to share the ball with guys who move and cut, they are going to benefit a lot by playing with Thon. I think a kid like Harry really benefits by playing with Thon and Thon really, seriously appreciates how Harry is just relentless on the boards, he has good hands and he's a good teammate.

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