Sudan-born, Perth-raised, US-based teenage star Thon Maker has announced his desire to play for Australia’s men’s basketball team
Australia may be at the dawn of a golden era of men’s basketball with a wave of young talent headed by Dante Exum and seven-foot phenomenon Thon Maker set to transform the Boomers in years to come.
Next month 18-year-old guard Exum is expected to be a top four, possibly No.2, pick in one of the strongest NBA Drafts.
Like Exum the son of a former NBL import, 17-year-old Ben Simmons, a 203cm tall forward, will play for US college powerhouse Louisiana State University and has been pencilled in as a potential No.1 draft pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Perhaps the most exciting prospect is 17-year-old Maker, a 216cm centre with point guard skills, who was projected as the 2017 NBA Draft’s No.1 pick, but in recent days reports in the US have him joining Simmons in the 2016 class, giving Australia potential one-two selections.
Maker, a Sudan refugee who at five fled the war-torn nation and settled in Perth, has become a YouTube sensation after starring for one of America’s top private high schools, Carlisle School in Virginia.
He is being pursued by America’s elite US college basketball programs, including Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Texas.
It was feared Maker would opt not to play for Australia, but over the weekend his guardian, Ed Smith, said the player often described as a young Kevin Durant was keen “to become more involved with the Australian junior and senior national program”.
Boomers head coach Andrej Lemanis visited Maker in Virginia earlier this year and made an impression.
“Playing in the under-19 world championships is something that is important to Thon,” Smith told SportsNet New York.
“To begin forming a relationship with and an understanding of the Australian system is important.”
Australia is already riding high with four NBA players – Andrew Bogut (Golden State Warriors), Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland Cavaliers) and San Antonio Spurs duo Patty Mills and Aron Baynes.
Brisbane-born power forward Cameron Bairstow, who starred with the University of New Mexico, is expected to be a second round NBA Draft pick next month, bringing Australia’s NBA representatives to six in the 2014-15 season.
Another Sudan-born, Australian-raised tower, 208cm Mangok Mathiang, is expected to be the starting centre for Rick Pitino’s University of Louisville this year and may declare for the 2015 NBA Draft.
If the Boomers are to break through for medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and 2020 in Tokyo, the NBL’s import rule will largely be responsible.
Exum, Simmons and a posse of other young guns, including 18-year-old, 206cm Australian power forward Jonah Bolden, who just committed to play at UCLA, and 203cm forward Dane Pineau, who is continuing the Australian tradition at California’s St Mary’s, are all sons of US imports who settled and had families in Australia.