Published On: Fri, Jan 12th, 2018

Matur Maker hopes to follow brother Thon straight to the NBA

Matur Maker collected the ball 20 feet from the basket, turned his back to the hoop and pondered making the move you’d expect from a 6-10 prep basketball player who towered over his defender.

But instead of muscling closer to the basket, the South Sudanese-Australian phenom spun to face the hoop and, two strides, later unleashed a left-handed power dunk.

The play couldn’t rescue a victory for Maker’s team, the Canadian International Basketball Academy (CIBA), which fell 95-85 to GTA Prep Thursday morning.

But it served as a microcosm for Maker’s final season of amateur basketball.

CIBA head coach Edward Smith would have preferred that Maker, younger brother of Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker, chart a more traditional path to the NBA, turning pro after at least a season in the NCAA.

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But Maker sees an opportunity to play in the NBA next season and at 20, he’s old enough to seize it. Last week, Maker announced he would enter this June’s NBA draft. Thursday’s exhibition game was arranged partly to showcase him to the roughly 30 pro scouts who showed up.

Maker responded with 45 points and 19 rebounds, but recognizes those numbers alone won’t impress NBA executives.

“At 6-10 I could be a better defender,” Maker said. “Offensively, I’ll be hard for people to guard … I’d just have to get used to the range, but that will come in time.”

By now, Maker’s back story is well-known to followers of prep basketball.

Born in what is now South Sudan and raised in Australia, Maker followed older brother Thon to the United States, where Smith had become their legal guardian, to advance his hoops career. By late 2014 the trio had landed at Athlete Institute, the private sports academy in Orangeville from whence Thon Maker launched his bid for the 2016 NBA draft.

While the league’s age requirement is designed to encourage elite players to attend college, the elder Maker circumvented the NCAA by declaring 2015-2016 his postgraduate season, and was eventually selected 10th overall by Milwaukee.

Younger brother Matur is employing a similar strategy at CIBA, a private basketball academy that operates out of a Mississauga fitness club and doesn’t belong to a scholastic league.

Smith says that setup allows coaches to focus on player development. He says a traditional program likely would play Maker at centre because he’s 6- 10. At CIBA that role belongs to Makur Maker, a cousin of Thon and Matur who stands a broad-shouldered 6-11.

Under Smith, Matur Maker plays mainly guard because he’s built like Kevin Durant or Giannis Antetokounmpo — long, slender wing players currently starring in the NBA.

“It’s good to have fresh clay. You can mould it and shape it based on today’s (NBA) game,” Smith said. “Other programs were like, ‘we need to win a state championship so we need (Maker) to play down low.’ But that doesn’t help the kid for the pros … He’s a long athlete so he has to be a wing.”

Maker spent much of Thursday’s exhibition trading baskets the GTA Prep’s star player A.J. Lawson, a 6-7 guard who finished with 27 points.

When Lawson slashed through CIBA’s defence and gracefully drained a layup, Maker scored ended the ensuing possession with his own finger roll.

When Lawson powered passed Maker for a basket and foul, Maker responded with his own and-one.

“He’s real good. Hard to guard for his size,” Lawson said. “He has a good handle for 6-10, or however tall he is.”

And when Maker threw down that game-breaking dunk, Lawson’s dad —seated in a corner of the gym — had seen enough.

“Somebody stop this monster, man,” he groaned. “He’s killing us.”

Still, Thursday’s game didn’t present the ideal environment for evaluating Maker’s NBA potential. A 45-point performance against players two years younger and several inches shorter doesn’t reveal much about how Maker will perform against older, bigger NBA players.

But Smith says Maker performs his best against other elite players. Facing a team of NCAA-bound postgraduates at New Hampshire’s Brewster Academy, Maker scored 33 points and 12 boards.

For his part, Maker says his brother’s mentorship and hands-on help will have him ready when the NBA calls.

“That’s great confidence, when somebody you train with every day (is in the NBA)” Maker said. “Your brother, your blood. You really feel the confidence.”

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Matur Maker hopes to follow brother Thon straight to the NBA