Runaway Train

Thon Maker has a unique skill set and mission: 'To punish the other team in the smartest way possible.'
by July 22, 2014


Over the course of Team Loaded-Virginia’s eight games at the Summer Jam, 7-footer Thon Maker got better in each outing.

The progression of the current No. 3-rated player in SLAM’s Fresh 10 of 2016 at the Summer Jam was analogous to a stopped freight train building up to full speed—which was obviously unfortunate news for the opponents standing in his way on the proverbial track to the 17’s Platinum Division championship.

His tournament culminated by cleaning up a loose ball underneath the basket and flushing it home with a two-handed dunk as time expired to give Team Loaded-VA an 81-79 win over Wisconsin United in the title game.

He finished with 22 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks—two of which came with under two minutes left, erasing great shot opportunities for Wisconsin United. Buckets came in transition, putbacks, facing up or driving in the half-court and he even dropped a trey early in the first half.

Maker’s fluidity, speed and leaping ability are atypical for 7-footers, let alone teenagers at that height. Add in a great looking shooting stroke, instinct as a shot blocker, a tenacious attitude on the court and a friendly demeanor off it, Maker has his choice among the college programs. Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Bill Self (Kansas), Tom Crean (Indiana), Steve Alford (UCLA), Thad Matta (Ohio State) and Mark Gottfried (North Carolina State) among many other head and assistant coaches travelled to Mequon, WI, to take in at least one of his games.

Besides the question of where he will end up committing, many basketball fans wonder what position he will play. Maker has his own opinion on the latter.

“I’m just a straight up basketball player,” Maker stated emphatically. “I don’t like it when they put positions on me and stuff, but when I’m needed to do a job, I know how to do it well. Right now it’s to punish the other team in the smartest way possible.”

Team Loaded-VA clearly earned the title of the best squad at the loaded Summer Jam with Maker having plenty of high-major running-mates. Fellow member of the Class of 2016 and 6-2 shooting guard, Curtis Jones (Paul VI/Richmond, VA), punished the opposition from three-point land—including a 23-point game in the championship where he drilled 3 three-pointers—and also had some highlights above the rim in transition. Jones already holds offers from Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Maryland, Georgia Tech and West Virginia, but could garner more by continuing his torrid shooting pace.

Jeremy Carter-Sheppard, a 2016 point guard from John Marshall (VA) High also was a consistent shot- and play-maker and should see his recruitment begin to pick up steam. Andrien White, a 6-3, 2015 guard out of Thomas Dale (VA) High also produced at a high level in the playoffs.

Kentrell Barkley (6-6 G/F, Northern Durham HS/Durham, NC) made his case as one of the most dangerous wings at the Summer Jam, and was in attack mode offensively and defensively with his cat-like quickness from the moment he set foot in Homestead High School’s gym Wednesday night for their tourney-opening game.

Maker was undoubtably bolstered by his talented teammates—including his younger brother, 6-9, 2017 prospect Matur Maker—came in handy as he had underwhelming 6- and 10-point games early in the Summer Jam. He even took an inadvertent tooth to the head during his second game and had to wear a wrap protecting the cut the remainder of the tourney.

“I do get frustrated, but I have to keep playing the game of basketball and find a way to help the team win other than getting touches,” Maker said. “It keeps me focused the entire time knowing the other team is doing their best to try and stop me. At the same time, I have to know I have shooters on my team—so they just can’t target me only or they won’t know what hit ‘em.”

It’s rare for Maker to meet his match in height, talent—or both—but he got a chance Wednesday in the opener against Dream Vision and blue-chip prospect Chase Jeter (6-11 C, Bishop Gorman HS/Las Vegas, NV). Despite Team Loaded-VA coming away with the win, Maker wasn’t completely satisfied.

“I’ve already studied his game,” Maker said. “So I got real mad a few times when he got what I knew he was about to get, which was basically his right hook. Overall, our whole team was locked in. I always make it personal on defense, regardless of who I’m checking, every single time.”

After Maker went to the bench for a blow following a scoreless start, and surrendering a few buckets against Jeter, he was on his feet clapping it up for his teammates on the court carrying the load and setting the table for a Team Loaded-VA victory.

His attitude when things aren’t going his way offensively about still trying to change a game in his team’s favor in other ways, and the matchup nightmares he causes the opposition when he’s in a groove offensively are just two of the many reasons Maker has become one of the most sought after high school players in the county.

Don’t expect him to change his course.

“I just want to keep my character, and keep on playing without trying to impress anyone else,” Maker said. “I just want to play how I did to get [the college coaches] to first hear about me, and be myself. I play hard trying to stop the other team, and play to win every single time.”


  • 17’s Platinum tourney runners-up Wisconsin United got productive guard play out of Marshawn Wilson (6-2, Hill Murray HS/Oakdale, MN), Donnell Gresham (6-2, Cretin-Derham Hall/Maplewood, MN) and Jevon Smith (Milwaukee Lutheran/Milwaukee, WI) all tournament, but a pair of 6-7 lefty forwards – Jaylen Key (Homestead HS/Milwaukee, WI) and Levi Bradley Jr. (Pius XI/Milwaukee, WI) – both took turns carrying the load during the squad’s impressive run to the title game. Both Key and Bradley hold offers from many mid-major schools.
  • High school basketball in Chicago, and it’s surrounding suburbs, is covered extensively and standouts from the area often receive the most publicity out of the state of Illinois. However, several downstate players proved at the Summer Jam they need to be mentioned among the state’s best. Class of 2015 6-8 jumping jack Obediah Church (Springfield HS/Springfield, IL) and smooth class of 2015 6-6 wing Christian Williams (Decatur St. Teresa/Decatur, IL) both have started to see mid-major programs offer, with high-majors starting to take notice, playing with the Illinois Irish. Central Illinois Net Gain advanced to the quarterfinals of the 17’s Platinum Division, and 6-5 shooting guard Gavin Block (Lincoln HS/Lincoln, IL) and sharp-shooting 6-8 forward with a quick trigger Tyler Seibring (Normal Community HS/Towanda, IL) were a big reason why. Seibring canned seven threes on his way to 28 points in a quarterfinals loss to the King James Shooting Stars featuring five high-major players, four of which are committed.
  • The Martin Brothers 16’s backcourt of Jordan Bohannon (6-0 PG, Linn-Mar HS/Marion, IA) and Levi Jansen (6-2 SG, MOC-Floyd Valley HS/Orange City, IA) both can shoot the ball at an extremely high level both off the catch or bounce. Bohannon already holds an offer from Northern Iowa, but with shooters always coming at a premium in collegiate recruiting, both players’ recruitments seemed primed to ramp up over the course of the next two years. Their squad got eliminated from the 16’s Platinum Division playoffs in the Elite Eight by the Iowa Barnstormers, who feature a quality long-range sniper of their own in 6-4 Jared Printy (Washington HS/Cedar Rapids, IA). The Barnstormers were anchored by 6-9 rugged big man Ryan Kreiner (New Hampton HS/New Hampton, IA) and 6-5 shooting guard Wali Parks (Iowa City West/Iowa City, IA) who is a solid two-way player.
  • Belmont scooped up an excellent two-guard with the commitment of Michael Benkert (6-4, Center Grove HS/Greenwood, IN) who hit shots consistently from all over the court at the Summer Jam playing with EG 10. Benkert showed a solid three-point stroke, but was also cash from the mid-range in helping lead his squad to the 17’s Platinum Elite Eight.