The 2014 basketball recruiting class has been a hot topic over the air waves the past few weeks, with many people beginning to worry for the first time that Coach Cal might not successfully pull off another #1 ranked recruiting class. What is disappointing is that these speculators have seemingly forgotten about Rivals’ #9 ranked player in the nation, and first commitment of Cal’s Class, Karl-Anthony Towns Jr. If you are one of those that has let Towns slip past your radar in the recent months, here is the golden opportunity to learn EVERYTHING you need to know about Mr. Towns. Last night a documentary made by MSG Varsity called “Center of Attention” aired primarily through markets in the Northeast, but lucky for you the entire 1:24 program can be seen here.
This isn’t the first time a future UK superstar has had a documentary crew follow him throughout high school for a year: MKG’s life was opened up to us in the beginning of 2011 with the making of “Prayer For A Perfect Season”. There are many similarities and differences between both docs: they begin with their respective decisions to attend UK, but HBO quality is HBO quality and while both are great people on and off the court, they have very different personalities. It was pretty well noted that MKG struggled with media attention, whereas Karl loves talking to fans and the media, narrating the entire doc himself. Here are a few of the things I took away from “Center of Attention”; trust me I am giving plenty of spoiler alerts so if you plan on watching, wait to read this until the end and feel free to criticize my “expert” analysis.
– The Big KAT from Piscataway credits his growth as a person and player to his tight knit family. His father was a standout at Monmouth, racking in the 2nd most rebounds in the NCAA during his Senior season. His father coaches high school ball, and taught has taught him over the years at their local park how to develop every asset of his game from shooting, rebounding, passing, and everything else you can do as a basketball player. His mother is just as supportive, attending every game and screaming from the bleachers through the game’s entirety. His sister is 15 years older, mentoring him almost like a son. Like her mother and father, she is at every game with Karl’s niece in tow. For Karl, family is everything; without it he wouldn’t be the mature young man he is today.
– The family often reminisces about some of Karl’s most significant moments. His father talks about the first time he saw Karl hit a 3 in a game. With his size, the other team was screaming, “No shot, No shot”. Karl didn’t think twice when knocking down the trey. As his father told the story, they showed Karl shooting around his high school gym, hitting 3 after 3 after 3.
– One part was an obvious promo for his St. Joseph Metuchen high school, but some of it was entertaining. Like the fact that Jon Bon Jovi attended the same high school. I guess we can start playing “It’s My Life” at basketball games too.
– You don’t realize just how young he is until they show clips of him in the classroom. Some of his classmates look like they couldn’t get into the local teen dance. Karl really is a “Man Among Boys”.
– Karl is ALWAYS rocking UK gear. He’s caught on to the 3-Goggles trend. What’s even funnier is the team’s isolation play to Karl is called Kentucky.
– After the Peach Jam, Matt talked on the radio about how Coach Cal and Coach K have a certain aura about them when they walk into the gym. Every player, coach, and parent knows that Cal is in the building. It’s hard to describe an abstract aura, until you see his teammates’ reaction when they find out Coach Cal and Coach O are attending one of Karl’s games. St. Joe’s two other superstars- Marques Townes and William Baldwin- take notice and ‘ball so hard’ during the game, noting, “Hey, maybe I can catch his eye with Karl on the floor.” After the game Cal was asking people around the gym who that Baldwin kid is, making the young man’s day.
– St. Joe’s opened their season against their toughest conference rival East Brunswick at home in front of a capacity crowd. The pressure from the fans and media was as intense as the double teams Karl faced throughout the game. A back and forth battle throughout, Karl went to the free throw line with 12 seconds left, needing 3 free throws to tie the ball game and inevitably force OT. After sinking the first two, the last one was too hard, tasting the agony of defeat early on. Karl didn’t get too down on himself, but he didn’t forget the pain of losing to a rival in such a big game.
– You know you’re doing something right when cheerleaders from opposing teams request pictures with you after a game.
– Karl took the Newtown school shooting very close to heart. Shortly after the shooting he visited an autistic school nearby to hangout with the kids and provide a little community service. Even in the best circumstances, usually things like this seem somewhat staged for TV/media, but Karl isn’t like that. He has a very genuine character that you can’t help but appreciate throughout the documentary. He helped a few kids shoot baskets, read a storybook to the younger kids, and took a little bit of ridicule from a young girl that he was losing to in a game of Sorry. The smiles on the kids’ faces produced happiness in Karl that couldn’t be matched, even after playing his best game of basketball.
– The doc crew followed Karl to his off-site training center for a short stint. The trainers there had nothing but high praises, saying things like, “He trains like a pro; he won’t leave until he accomplishes the goals set before the workout began.” One trainer described him as, “the perfect combination of talent and hard work.” With a somewhat lanky frame, Karl knows that he has to bust his butt if he wants to bang with the best inside.
– A question that almost everyone is curious about but no one seems to know, is how the reclassification process works for guys like Karl and Nerlens Noel. It doesn’t go into the most specific details, but at the 25:00 minute mark he gives us a semi-explanation of how the reclassification process works, describing the nearly 5 hours of additional online work he has to complete each day to fulfill the required 35 credits.
– During the doc I was expecting them to frequently showcase his skills through highlights and stats. However Karl is a very humble kid for 17; really the only time they mention his stats is when he wasn’t playing up to his standards. In Karl’s mind, the best game he can play is when he can fill the stat sheet in all categories. The highlights of one game in particular: multiple hard dunks, INSANE blocks against the glass, 3s on 3s on 3s, even one hand bounce passes while running the fast break, AS A 7 FOOTER! Karl often gets compared to European players, when in reality he is the true definition of versatility.
– When the documentary turned to his time playing for the Dominican Republic, Karl was in awe of the experience. His highlight of the trip was getting to interview Keving Durant, when his parents’ were ecstatic when he knocked down a 3 over Anthony Davis. “I was more in awe, this is my kid playing against millionaires, he doesn’t even get an allowance,” his father said while nearly losing his composure on camera.
– If you’re looking to watch his best play, skip ahead to around the 36:00 mark. Playing against the team he lost the season opener to, Karl posterizes an opposing player on an offensive rebound. The stare down afterwards was almost as intimidating, but it did earn him a technical foul.
– Even though Karl had the highlight of the season against rival East Brunswick, his St. Joe’s team once again lost. After the game the doc crew shows a conversation at the dinner table with his family. Even though the setting is obviously set up for the crew to capture the entire heated exchange, it reminds me of many post game talks I had with my family after a rough loss. Usually mine included a lot of yelling and cursing, but Karl is much more mature than 17 year old Nick Roush. His mother tries to not let her son get too upset, telling him, “it’s a learning experience.” Karl doesn’t care, “What’s a learning experience if we never learn from it?” The fire and passion in his voice show a hunger to win at all costs.
– What do you do to get away after a tough loss to a rival? Hang out with your NBA buddy Al Horford. Horford and Towns developed a great relationship when he played for the Dominican Team, calling on Horford whenever he needs a little perspective to help set his mind at ease.
– This opposing stache, I mean coach, needs to invest in some trimmers. I don’t know how he eats food through a screen door like this.
– Karl is still a kid that can get nervous before big games. Before the 3rd battle against East Brunswick in Rutgers Arena for the Conference Title, Karl brought the wrong jersey to the game, with the proper one arriving just before game time. St. Joe’s eventually got revenge in 3OTs, with Karl having to sit the bench for the final two after fouling out on a call that could only be made by terrible high school officials.
– The St. Joseph Falcons eventually went on to win the Catholic school-only State Title for the second year in a row, earning a bid to play in the “Tournament of Champions” (I’m so glad Kentucky still plays the old fashioned, Sweet 16 format). Karl showed out on his Father’s old home court at Monmouth in the Final Four, “I had to be better than my Dad.” Unfortunately they couldn’t pull off an upset in the Finals, keeping the game close until they lost to Syracuse-bound Tyler Roberson.
Upon first glance, this documentary seemed to be simply a promotional video for the blue chip prospect, but that is not the case. Karl has a maturity beyond his years, appreciating and fully acknowledging his role as a local role model and mentor. When most teenagers might find it uncomfortable to talk to complete strangers, Towns is eager to offer advice to young basketball players, doing whatever he can to make the kids and their parents happy. Some teenagers can even fake their way through it, but Karl is VERY genuine, articulating his thoughts better than most professional athletes. It made me proud to watch Nerlens do whatever he could to help around the community; Karl will do the same if not more. I’m more excited to see what he will do for the City of Lexington off the court, than what he will do on the Rupp Arena floor. But don’t discount what he will do on the floor; he is a one-of-a-kind player that shows versatility at 7 ft tall that has never been seen before. Karl is the “Center of Attention” because he deserves it, with that attention only growing when he arrives on campus in the summer of 2014.
“I want to be the best human I can be.” -Karl Towns Jr.