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By LARRY VAUGHT
As expected, not only did 7-0 Karl Towns Jr. of New Jersey announce Tuesday that he will play his college basketball at the University of Kentucky, but he also confirmed that was going to reclassify from the 2015 recruiting class to the 2014 class.
Towns was the top-rated sophomore in the nation and likely now will be No. 1 in the 2014 class. He’s been compared to Anthony Davis, who led UK to the 2012 national title, because of his ability to play inside, block shots, handle the ball and hit outside shots.
Towns made the announcement in front of the entire student body at St. Joseph High School. He thanked his parents and teammates for their help.
“The first decision for me today is I am going to reclassify to the year of 2014. I made that decision with my family,” Towns said. “The second decision is the university I will attend and the university I have decided to play at is the University of Kentucky.”
He hugged his mom, who did an energetic fist pump after the decision, and then embraced his father, a former college player who once was third in the nation in rebounding.
He had over 40 scholarship offers and basically had narrowed his list to Kentucky, Duke and Florida. However, St. Joseph athletics director Jerry Smith noted two weeks ago that Duke was the second choice with Florida and Michigan State also behind Kentucky.
“He is on the road to being a pro, and knows Kentucky can help that. He also has a really good relationship with (Kentucky assistant) Orlando Antigua. He really likes him a lot,” Smith said then.
Towns said on msgvarsity.com that he had felt some stress in recent days.
“It’s just such a relief; the nervousness was building up. Now I get to enjoy the rest of my high school career. It is a great school, with a great kinesiology school. I really respected coach (John) Calipari and coach Orlando Antigua.”
He spent time in Lexington this summer trying out for the Dominican Republic national team coached by Calipari with assistance from Antigua. He said then that Calipari never talked about playing time or shots, but just pushed him to play “for him and my family and my country” and that he respected that.
Would he have committed to Kentucky if he had not played on that team for Calipari and spent time at UK?
“Honestly, I think they still would have been a high choice. It is such a powerhouse in basketball and a great academic school. My comfort level there was so high and it just felt like the right school,” the 7-0 Towns, who averaged 11.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 5.1 blocks on his state championship team last season, said.
He has a 7-5 wingspan on his 235-pound frame and has worked to become a more physical, aggressive inside player. Dominican players and NBA stars that he played against during the summer told him if he could develop his inside game more to go with his potent 3-point shot he would be an even more “dangerous player.”
He’s added a sky hook and even a fade hook since last season. “I have to thank (Dominican Republic assistant coach) Del Harris for that. He made me so comfortable with that shot. And I put so much work into that,” Towns said.
He also has a 4.3 grade-point average in advance placement classes, one reason he can reclassify to the 2014 recruiting class.
His mother, Jackie, said she was relieved he could now concentrate on his studies as well as “training and building his body to play at the collegiate level.”
His father plans to keep him focused on the “big picture” during his next two years of high school basketball before he gets to Kentucky, but also make sure he enjoys his high school time.
“Basically we are going to keep him grounded and focused on school,” Karl Towns Sr. said. “The summers are for him to get better. A lot of travel with the Dominican team. The best thing about this choice is that he felt comfortable in that environment out there. Going through the process of being able to compete at the highest level made him feel good about the situation. Just knowing what was involved in getting there was an inspiration.”
The newest UK commit — and first in the 2014 recruiting class — says he can’t have any letdowns the next two seasons.
“I’ll just go in there and do my job. Play the game I know how to play. (NBA star) LeBron (James) told me (after a U.S.-Dominican Republic game in Las Vegas) to just go out there and play like everyone’s LeBron James. I’m going to have to go out there and do that,” Towns said. “I’m really going to use my experience from over the summer. I’m always about the team first. It’s our team, not my team. I’m going to go out there and work hard and bring St. Joe’s its second (state championship).”
Towns also played against NBA star Kobe Bryant in the exhibition game last summer with his Dominican teammates. He says making his announcement Tuesday was more nerve-wracking.
“I have to honestly say being up there was more nerve-wracking. I was there for 2 ½ months with the Dominican team, and I could prepare myself emotionally and physically to play,” he said. “You’re playing for so much more than yourself — you’re playing for your country, for the Olympics. But those 10 minutes up there (on stage), my calves were shaking, my hands were shaking.”