GARDEN GROVE, Calif. – If it were up to Thon Maker, he would be on a soccer pitch somewhere mimicking the speed and skill of his favorite athlete, Arsenal striker Theo Walcott.
But as he neared 6-foot-8 at just 13 years old, Maker's dream of becoming a soccer star was redirected.
Participating in an outreach program centered on basketball and soccer for Sudanese youth in Australia, Edward Smith – a Washington, D.C. native who has served as a coach and mentor Down Under for prospects like Majok Majok – entered the picture and suggested Maker shift his attention from soccer to basketball.
Now 15 years old and already 6-11, the buzz has been building throughout the summer for Maker with his body crafted by the Basketball Gods, ability to run the floor and block shots.
Before beginning his freshman year at Metairie Park Country Day (Metairie, La.) in the fall, Maker is in Southern California this weekend to test his progress at adidas Nations against a field of 40 top American prospects from the 2013 and 2014 classes, as well as players from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and South America.
The event also includes a cast of college counselors headlined by Steven Adams, Isaiah Austin, Ray McCallum, Nerlens Noel, Peyton Siva and Adonis Thomas.
"We thought it would be good to have him finish the summer here at adidas Nations, see the collegiate guys and see what it takes," said Smith, who is now Maker's guardian, guiding him through the transition from Australia to the United States and doing most of the talking for the media-shy freshman.
As expected given his youth, Maker struggled a bit in a Saturday morning loss, going 0 for 3 from the field with five fouls in just 15 minutes of action. He did manage to get on the board with three points, also collecting three rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. His incredible agility and coordination were on display during the abbreviated viewing.
"Two years ago he couldn't play at all," Smith said. "But he has the potential to play at the highest level. I understand it is a ladder and a process but being in the midst of the best competition night in and night out, you can't trade this experience. It was a good time to bring him here."
Maker was born in Sudan and moved to Australia when he was 7 years old. He was relatively unscathed by the conflicts that have ravaged the North African country over the past decade.
"His family sent him there for a better education," Smith said. "The majority of people in the (outreach) program came from the strife of the war. He was one of the exceptional few who had an opportunity to miss that because they were stationed a little bit better in life in terms of that."
Though Smith has been away from the game in the United States since 1991, he has taken a unique approach to ensure his protégé remains grounded.
"There have been so many great kids that didn't make it in the game that were really great when they were young," said Smith, referencing Lenny Cooke and Renardo Sidney. "I talk to him about what happened in their lives and what they could have done differently."
Preliminary interest in the way of questionnaires (widely distributed by colleges) has come from programs like Georgetown, Kentucky, LSU, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Ohio State.
* Dante Exum of Australia is a name that has picked up a lot of steam this summer. The 6-4 shooting guard finished fourth in scoring at the FIBA U17 World Championship in June, posting 17.3 points per game. He won't be coming to the United States to play high school ball, opting instead to remain at the Australian Institute of Sport. Exum, a 2014 prospect, does plan on playing college ball stateside and is hearing from Boise State, LSU, SMU and Vanderbilt.
* Tony Trocha, a rising senior at St. Thomas Catholic (Houston) by way of Colombia, is a bouncy 6-9 forward just beginning to get his feet wet in the recruiting process. He is a potential five-star candidate in the 2013 class but admittedly doesn't know much about the schools that are recruiting him. Trocha mentioned Baylor, Gonzaga, Providence, Ohio State and George Mason as schools that have been in contact.
* Braian Angola, also from Colombia and a teammate of Trocha's at adidas Nations, is headed to Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) in the fall. He is a 6-6 guard/wing that should draw some mid-major interest once coaches see him in the winter.