By LARRY VAUGHT
He means no disrespect to John Calipari’s current players — and remember that Kentucky had the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class last year again — but St. Joseph (N.J.) High School athletics director Jerry Smith believes 6-11 sophomore Karl Towns is already better than anyone at UK now.
“This is a special kid. We went to the Kentucky-Maryland game (in Brooklyn). We watched the game. I was watching the players at Kentucky right now and just taking in the overall game,” said Smith. “He is better than the kids there now. He can shot beyond the 3-point line. He can dribble. He can go inside or outside.
“Don’t forget he is young (16), too. Wait until he gets stronger and hits the weight room and gets individual attention. The sky is the limit. He is unbelievable. I have never had a kid like this at our school. We have two other kids that will be Division I players, and they are not even close to this kid. He’s that good.”
And it looks like he’s ready to make it clear he wants to play his college basketball at Kentucky. Towns, the nation’s top-ranked sophomore, will make his college choice Dec. 4 at 10 a.m. on regional cable network MSG Varsity. The announcement will be streamed live on www.MSGVarsity.com.
“Everyone here when they were guessing where he would go and he went to Michigan State, Florida and Duke for visits,” Smith said. “Everyone thought with John Calipari coaching the Dominican national team that Karl was a part of last summer and practiced there in Lexington, that he would automatically go to Kentucky. And there is nothing like Kentucky anywhere else. 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.
“His second choice is really Duke. He does love academics and knows Duke is rated pretty high. I thought Florida had a shot. His mother is Dominica and he has a lot of relatives in Florida. I thought that would be where he would go. But he feels very comfortable at Kentucky and really, really likes Kentucky. He is making the announcement early to stop all phone calls and questions.”
One question that will persist is what graduating class Towns will be part of. He has a 4.2 grade-point average and is already taking accelerated classes. Smith says graduating early has been discussed.
“I do know his last year at our school might be in question,” Smith said. “It might be this year and next year here and then done. The school is going to give him more accelerated classes from college. (NBA player) Andrew Bynum went to school here. So did (NBA player Jay) Williams. They never did that (re-classified). This is all new to us, but it is being discussed.
“Basketball-wise, he is ready for college now. Just the strength would be the only question. As far as the skill level, he is ready now. (Duke) Coach Mike Krzyzewski told him recently that he is better than any guy he has right now. He told him he would start this year. He did a shootaround at Duke with the coaches. He made five 3’s going right, five to the left and then went to halfcourt and hit a shot. Made 11 in a row for the coaches.
“Someone told me yesterday he is actually 7-foot or 7-2 now. He has a size 20 shoe that we special order from Texas. And he is so humble. Most kids with his notoriety could not handle like he does, but he takes it all in stride. He won’t get upset with tough love from Calipari. He doesn’t get nervous. Referees even love him. He just smiles, hugs refs and gives them the ball. He is a great person and great player.”
Smith thinks Towns will be a perfect fit with the kind of player Calipari wants playing for him.
“When I watched Kentucky play against Maryland, I liked that the Kentucky kids did not taunt anyone. They handled the ball, ran to the bench, cheered for teammates. There’s really a lot of discipline in the program, and that’s nice to see. They share the ball. They pass the ball and care about each other,” Smith said. “I like the program and the direction they take. So does Karl.
“Calipari gets booed even when he does good. He gave a million dollar check to Red Cross at the game to help Hurricane Sandy victims, and he got booed. You’ve got to be kidding me. Maryland fans were brutal. But I guess that’s what happens when you are top. That’s Kentucky basketball and Karl understands that.”