When Kentucky takes the court tonight for Big Blue Madness, UK fans will get their first glimpse of Karl-Anthony Towns on the Rupp Arena floor. Towns, a 6-foot-11 big man from New Jersey, is one of the headliners of the nation’s best recruiting class and one of the most highly touted players on the team ranked No. 1 in the country in the preseason coaches’ poll released Thursday.
Here’s what you need to know about him.
1. He Was the Gatorade National Player of the Year Last Year
After dazzling talent-evaluators during his senior year at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, New Jersey, Towns was named the Gatorade national Player of the Year at a Hollywood awards ceremony in July. You can watch his emotional acceptance speech in the video above.
He used the speech to thank his mom, Jacqueline Cruz, who he said cooked him enough meals to fill his NBA-sized body, and his dad, Karl Towns Sr., a former Monmouth University basketball player who worked four jobs just to pay the bills and spent his savings on a basketball court in the Towns’ back yard so Karl Jr. could practice.
Here’s a snippet:
I’ve gotta think my mother, always cooking for me. I’m a big guy. I need to eat a lot. I can’t thank her enough. Those days where she could’t be there, she always made sure I was taken care of. I’ve gotta thank my dad, also. Growing up, it was real hard. Growing up, you had to work real hard, and I just thank you for taking the time out to give me that orange basketball. The little time I had with you when you were working four jobs to be able to take care of me. I’ll never forget the day you told me you were going to take all your savings and put a granite court in the back yard for me. We didn’t have enough money for a real hoop but you made sure that you built one.
The most amazing part about the speech?
Towns told the Louisville Courier-Journal that since he wasn’t expecting to win, he hadn’t even prepared a speech, so he went up there and ad-libbed.
Towns told the paper:
I went up there and saw the hardware in my hand, and thought about all the hardships I had to go through. I thought what my family did. When they said my name, I was in complete shock.
“Going up there, I looked down at my parents’ faces and how proud they were, and I came down to tears. I was thinking about how much they had to do for me to put clothes on my back and shoes on my feet. … I had to move constantly. I had to live with my sister. My parents were working so many jobs. All those things came to my mind at that moment.
2. He Was Ranked as High as the 4th Best Recruit in the Country
Towns had a season for the ages last year at St. Joseph, averaging 20.9 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocks while leading his team to a 30-2 record and a state championship. He shot 66.1 percent from the floor and 82.2 percent from the free-throw line.
The 2013-14 season was initially supposed to be Towns’ junior year at St. Joseph, but he announced in December 2012 that he was re-classifying as a junior rather than a sophomore and graduating a year early.
His combination of size skills catapulted him to the top of most national recruiting rankings. Scout.com rated him the fourth overall player and the second best center in the Class of 2014, while Rivals.com rated him fifth and second, respectively, and ESPN, which initially had rated him the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2014, rated him ninth and third.
3. He Plays for the Dominican National Team, Which John Calipari Used to Coach
Towns’ mother is from the Dominican Republic, making him eligible to play for the country’s national team — something he’s done since he was a 16-year-old in 2011, when Kentucky coach John Calipari was coaching the team.
Towns played for the DR in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship and in the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament, in which the Dominicans came up just short of qualifying for the Olympics in London. He’s pictured above going up against Kentucky product Anthony Davis during a 2012 exhibition game against Team USA in Las Vegas.
In the summer of 2014, he had the distinction of playing both for and against the Dominican team during a string of exhibition games leading up to the FIBA World Cup in Spain. He played for the Dominicans against Team USA in a 105-62 USA win at Madison Square Garden, but against the Dominicans when they played Kentucky during the Wildcats’ summer tour of the Bahamas.
He was invited to join the team for the World Cup in Spain, but chose to return to Kentucky instead to focus on his academic workload.
4. He Was a McDonald’s All-American
Towns played in both the McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand game, and played well in both. He had 6 points and 5 rebounds in the McDonald’s game and was even better in the Jordan game, when he had 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
Watch the video above for a highlight reel from the McDonald’s game and the workouts leading up to it.
5. He Had a 3.96 GPA in High School
One of the reasons Towns won the Gatorade Player of the Year honor — and one of the reasons he was able to graduate a year early — is that he was a model student at St. Joseph, where he posted a 3.96 grade point average as a senior.