We’ve witnessed some great speeches over the years at the Gatorade High School Player of the Year Awards, but nothing quite like what we witnessed on Tuesday night from Karl-Anthony Towns.
The 7-foot senior from St. Joseph’s High School in Metuchen, NJ, was named Gatorade Boys’ Athlete of the Year on Tuesday, edging out a talented field of teens that included Justus Sheffield of Tullahoma High School in Tennessee, a pitcher and outfielder who was recently drafted in the first round of the MLB first-year player draft by the Cleveland Indians.
Upon the announcement from NFL running back Steven Jackson and NBA guards Brandon Knight and Bradley Beal, Towns rose to his feet and confidently stepped up to the stage in a crisp navy suit, pink bow tie and hankie. He looked like a wise man beyond his years. Off the dome, he began his captivating speech.
“Growing up you never really see yourself in this position,” said the 18-year-old Towns. “I got to thank my mother for always cooking for me—I’m a big guy, I need to eat a lot. I can’t thank her enough. Those days when she couldn’t be there, she always made sure I was taken care of.
“I got to thank my dad also,” he continued. “Growing up, it was real hard. I want to thank you for taking the time to give me that orange basketball and the little time I had with you when you were working four jobs just to be able to take care of me. I’ll never forget the day when you told me that you were going to take all of your savings and put a granite court in the backyard for me. We didn’t have money for a real hoop but you made sure you built one from hand so I could practice. I can’t thank you enough for that. You’re one of the biggest reasons I’m holding this trophy right now.”
Towns, who heads to Kentucky next year to play for Coach Cal, brought many in the room to tears with his beautiful words—be sure to check out video of the full speech above.
Gatorade established its prestigious Player of the Year program in 1985, honoring the top high school student athletes in virtually every sport. The basketball nominees don’t win every year, but many that have brought the hardware home have gone on to flourish. Recent boys basketball winners include LeBron James (2003), Dwight Howard (2004), Greg Oden (2006), Kevin Love (2007), Brandon Knight (2010) and Andrew Wiggins (2013). Towns joins an exclusive list of winners and following the announcement, Gatorade unveiled a fresh banner of Towns above the stage, lining him up with past winners, making the accomplishment official.
Basketball took center stage at last night’s event as Towns was joined by girls basketball standout Brianna Turner of Marvel High School. The senior guard/forward hailing from the great state of Texas is heading to Notre Dame next year to play for coach Muffett McGraw. US soccer legend Mia Hamm, Packers running back Eddie Lacy and US men’s national soccer team defender Omar Gonzalez announced Turner as this year’s Gatorade Girls’ Athlete of the Year. Turner was in shock upon arriving on the stage and like Towns, she gave praise to her parents. “Without them, I wouldn’t have any of this success,” she said.
Following the awards dinner, Turner and Towns joined the other student-athletes for a party on the pool deck at the Loews. The teens feasted on desserts and someone was kind enough to make a serious In-N-Out run. After making his rounds and thanking nearly everyone in attendance, Towns was ready to enjoy the night.
“It’s time to get this suit off and get in that pool,” he said with a huge smile. With the majority of the other nominees already in the water, Towns headed to his hotel room for a quick change. He soon emerged in a tank top and long Kentucky mesh basketball shorts. He put his phone and glasses to rest and sprinted toward the pool, his enormous body folding up for an epic cannonball. He was 18 again.