HomeSportHow NBA dream gets rising Aussie star through tough times

How NBA dream gets rising Aussie star through tough times

Summary

There was palpable hype when Maker joined the Kings in the pre-season following a successful junior career in America.Maker was one of the most sought-after recruits coming out of high school in 2020, as ESPN had him ranked as the 16th best prospect in the US.The scene was set for the Kenyan-born talent to follow in the footsteps of LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey and use the NBL as a platform to the NBA. Only problem, Maker has battled an ankle injury, forcing him to the sidelines for the majority of the season. “I definitely do feel like I’ve been forgotten,” Maker told the Logue Down basketball podcast.“And that isn’t only in the NBL, but worldwide, which is kind of a good thing because throughout high school I was never really recognised like that.“I’m used to coming out of the blue, but as long as I know that I’m competing then I know I’m where I need to be.“I really want to prove myself in these last games of the season, not only for myself but the team to give us the best chance of winning a championship.”Maker had offers from prestigious colleges such as UCLA, Kentucky and Kansas but turned them down to join Howard, a historically black college or university (HBCU).He became the highest ranked recruit to commit to a HBCU in the modern recruiting era, but his college career was unfortunately limited to just two games after the season was cancelled due to Covid.“It was one of the toughest times,” he said.“I was anticipating a good year in college and we had a good team, so it was frustrating when the season got cancelled due to Covid but sometimes things don’t always go the way you want.” Maker seriously considered joining the G League Ignite alongside fellow Aussie Dyson Daniels, but in the end he opted to return home.He had been living abroad for six years, so when the Kings came knocking with an offer to play in front of his family, he couldn’t knock it back.“I thought it was best to come home,” he said.“The Kings also have a great coach in Chase Buford, who has coached in the NBA and the CEO Chris Pongrass has been in the NBA.“It is like NBA surroundings but you’re in the NBL and the Kings have also allowed me to come in and be me.” Sadly, Maker’s ankle injury has forced him to put his NBA draft aspirations on hold.He experienced doubts throughout his recovery, but deep down he always knew he would return as a better player. Maker has showcased this self-belief in his past two games against Cairns.He was particularly impressive starting in Sydney’s win over the Taipans last round to finish with five points and 10 rebounds. “It has felt so good to be back,” he said.“I said in the press conference that was my second game in three months, so just being out on the floor and playing again was fun.“We are definitely playing great basketball at the moment. We’ve got a good coaching staff and group of guys, so we are looking forward to these next nine games.”Born in Kenya to South Sudanese parents, Maker moved to Australia when he was 11 months old.He would love to return to his nation of birth one day and is equally proud of his family’s South Sudanese heritage.“I’ve been able to live a blessed life, but South Sudan isn’t always what people expect,” he said.“It is a beautiful place, and we have food and resources, but it is just a war-torn country so there is always fighting.“Everything else, minus the fighting, is a beautiful place.” Maker also has basketball in his bloodlines.He is the cousin of former Australian NBA player and Boomer Thon Maker while his younger brother, Matur Maker, has been playing NBA G League and has completed a stint with Denver Nuggets in the NBA Summer League.Maker is especially motivated to emulate Thon Maker, who was the 10th pick in the 2016 NBA draft and is now playing in the G League after stints overseas as he looks to return to the world’s best league. “Thon inspires me tremendously with the success that he has had, and it inspires me to do more,” he said.“Everyone has a different path. Things change and it is about how you adapt to it, and I think Thon has done a good job of blocking out the noise and just focusing on himself and I’m proud of him for doing it.”Maker participated at last year’s NBA Draft Combine before withdrawing from the draft and turning his attention to improving his stock playing in the NBL.He knows an injury-interrupted season isn’t ideal, but he plans to respond in the final rounds of the NBL season. “People have seen flashes of me play, they know what I can do, and they are really excited and want to see more,” said Maker, a projected second-round pick in June’s NBA draft.“I know what I’m capable of and I know I’m an NBA player, so that’s all that matters.“And I’m pretty sure these scouts will also know pretty soon as well because I do feel like I will be in the NBA.“Whatever road I need to take to get there, I’m always willing to take.”Will NBL champion return to United?From the NBL’s greatest import debate to Jaylen Adams’ motivation at the Sydney Kings, Melbourne United’s roster stance and the player the South East Melbourne Phoenix need to step up – these are the biggest talking points ahead of round 16.  1. GREATEST DEBATEIs Perth megastar Bryce Cotton the NBL’s greatest import or has recency bias gone into overdrive in today’s game?That is the big question dominating hoops discussion this week following the continued brilliance of Cotton.NBL commentator Corey “Homicide” Williams hailed the Wildcats star the greatest import in the league’s history after he produced another matchwinning performance in a win over New Zealand last round.Cotton drained a three with seconds remaining to help Perth beat the Breakers, prompting Williams to announce the gifted guard the undisputed GOAT. “How is Cotton not the best import ever,” Williams reasoned on NBL Overtime. “Three-time MVP, two-time grand final MVP, three-time champion, and four-time All-NBL First Team.“Let’s be clear, I don’t care who says what.“This is the highest standard the league has ever been and who is the benchmark: Cotton.“How can you continually get better while the league is getting better. This league has global respect and Cotton is still head and shoulders the best.“Who ever wants to argue because I’m not even arguing anymore because there is no argument.“Cotton is the best import to ever play Down Under – take that to the bank.”NBL GOATAs strong as Williams’ case for Cotton is, there are plenty of people who disagree. Doyen of NBL journalism, Boti Nagy, is one person worthy of an opinion. Nagy, like us all, rates Cotton highly, but he doesn’t believe he is the NBL’s greatest import just yet. “That is, of course, if you’ve never heard or seen Leroy Loggins, Rob Rose, Daryl McDonald, Ricky Grace, Mark Davis, Rocky Smith, Ken Richardson, Chris Williams, Scott Fisher, and James Crawford,” said Nagy, who has seen every import since the NBL’s inception in 1979. “Ken Richardson and Leroy Loggins, the latter easily still No.1.”Regardless, the greatest debate is good for the NBL, and a testament to Cotton’s remarkable skill and success that he is even in the conversation.NBL: Bryce Cotton came up with a match-winning play in overtime to claim victory for the Perth Wildcats over the NZ Breakers.2. UNITED’S ROSTER STANCELeague leaders Melbourne United have made multiple inquiries about filling its spare roster spot, including signing former championship-winning guard Yudai Baba, but they aren’t looking pull the trigger just yet. It’s understood Baba, who is currently contracted with the Texas Legends in the G League, has been on United’s radar following a season-ending ACL injury to big man Callum Dalton.At this point, no deal has eventuated with the Japanese international as Melbourne continue to play with just one import in Nigerian international Caleb Agada. United tell me they’re happy with the roster at present and aren’t looking to make any changes, however they are keeping options open.  3. ADAMS’ MOTIVATIONStar Sydney Kings import guard Jaylen Adams has revealed one motivation behind his remarkable maiden NBL season.Speaking on the latest episode of the Building the Kingdom – the Kings’ internal documentary – Adams addressed News Corp and this scribe selecting him as the NBL’s 17th best player in the pre-season top 20 player selections. The former Milwaukee Buck even raised the topic with me over lunch recently. “I said, ‘I’m told you selected me at 17 in the pre-season,” Adams said.“Matt got a little nervous and said there have been guys who have done a lot in this league, and it isn’t personal.“So where do you have me now? “He was like top six? So, 17 might have been genuine if you’ve still got me at six.“That is stuff that I didn’t really care to look at, but you hear it. You just have to try and tune out and go into the gym every day and know what you are capable of.”Adams has certainly proved he is one of the NBL’s finest players alongside the likes of Bryce Cotton, Vic Law and Chris Goulding following his MVP calibre season with the Kings.In just 14 games, he has averaged 20.79 points, 6.07 assists and 5.07 rebounds while shooting 41 per cent from the field.Adams now belongs among the league’s top talent, but it was hard to select him in the upper echelon in the pre-season ahead of championship winners who have performed and produced in the league for years. 4. PHOENIX NEED GLIDDON TO FIREThe South East Melbourne Phoenix need more from veteran guard Cam Gliddon to secure a finals position following Ryan Broekhoff’s shoulder injury.Broekhoff will be sidelined for a month, meaning he likely won’t return before the finals. Only problem, the fourth-placed Phoenix aren’t guaranteed to make the finals and will need their depth to shine to hold out the Illawarra Hawks and the Sydney Kings for a post-season position.This is where players like Gliddon, who has averaged just 3.5 points, need to step up to help fill the void left by Broekhoff. After an offseason ruined by hip surgery, Gliddon was struck down by Covid. Since his return, the 10-year NBL veteran has shown glimpses of his best coming off the bench, including a standout 20-point game against Brisbane back in round 12.Gliddon needs to replicate this form on a more consistent basis to help his team make the finals.  ROUND 16 KEY STATHeading into Thursday’s season-defining clash against the fifth-placed Illawarra Hawks in Wollongong, the Phoenix have won their last four interstate games which is a franchise best in their short history with wins at Tasmania, Brisbane, Illawarra, and Adelaide.  NBL ROUND 16 DRAWIllawarra Hawks vs South East Melbourne PhoenixThursday, Mar 17 from 7.30pm (AEDT) at WIN Entertainment Centre and Live on ESPN and Kayo  Adelaide 36ers vs Cairns TaipansFriday, Mar 18 from 7.30pm (AEDT) at Adelaide Entertainment Centre and Live on ESPN and Kayo Tasmania JackJumpers vs Illawarra HawksSaturday, Mar 19 from 5.30pm (AEDT) at Silverdome, Launceston and Live on ESPN and Kayo  South East Melbourne Phoenix vs Sydney Kings8pm (AEDT) at John Cain Arena and Live on ESPN and Kayo  Melbourne United vs Adelaide 36ersSunday, Mar 20 from 1pm (AEDT) at John Cain Arena and Live on ESPN, 10Peach and Kayo Brisbane Bullets vs Cairns Taipans3pm (AEDT) at Nissan Arena and Live on ESPN, 10Peach and Kayo Perth Wildcats vs New Zealand Breakers5.30pm (AEDT) at RAC Arena and Live on ESPN and Kayo

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