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By LARRY VAUGHT
Karl Towns, 17, had a full-time man’s job to do last summer, and did it. The University of Kentucky commit again played for the Dominican National Team as it tried to qualify for the World Cup, a goal the team reached for coach Orlando Antigua, one of UK coach John Calipari’s assistants.
“Karl had a great summer. He got significant chances to improve his game,” said Karl Towns Sr. “He played with the Dominican team all summer. He bulked up. He’s 7-1, and got up to 248 pounds. He needed to just be stronger playing for a national team. Those are a lot of professional players he played with and against. He knew to improve the quality of his game, he should spend the summer with them.”
He saw limited action, but scored 16 points against Paraguay and was often on the floor at crucial times in other games. He averaged 21.3 points and 14.3 rebounds per game last season Saint Joseph (N.J.) and chose Kentucky over a bevvy of other schools midway through the season. He has played under John Calipari the previous summer when the Dominican team won a bronze medal in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship in Mar De Plata, Argentina.
“There are a lot of benefits to getting yourself and your body ready for the physical beating you take at the next level,” Towns Sr. said. “He played well this summer. He did a nice job and I was very proud of him.”
His father rattled off a long list of NBA players like Tristan Thompson, J.J. Barea, Luis Scola, Francisco Garcia and more that his son played with and against.
“There were so many big-time players he went against. Holding his own against older men and even those NBA cats was a major accomplishment for him,” Towns Sr. said. “Here was a 17-year-old kid they trusted on the floor and were letting him playing quality minutes and he was not intimidated or scared. He was rebounding in traffic, getting to the rim. He showed people that he can play. Some people wanted to know if he felt bad not playing more, but no. He wanted to prove he could play with the best and spend the summer improving, and he did.”
Towns, who was featured in stories by Sports Illustrated and ESPN during the summer, played well at the Nike Summit in April along with several current UK freshmen. However, his father knows since he was out of the country during part of the summer and not at the major all-star camps, some buzz about his son has disappeared.
“He has proved to people what he can do, but if you don’t see him on the (camp) circuit, you forget,” Towns Sr. said. “But his main goal has been to make the Dominican Olympic team. He feels he can get more out of that to benefit him long term.”
Towns did get a taste of UK basketball, though, thanks to having Antigua as his head coach.
“He loved Orlando. Always has. He coached him hard. Karl had to make the team. There were no favorites,” Towns Sr. said. “Coach got on him just like everybody else. I told my son he had to make it on his own and he made it.
“He treated it just like a job and he went to work on his job every day for seven or eight weeks. He performed like he was doing a job. He told me, ‘I’ve got to go to work.’ It was a great experience for him and in his mind, he proved things to a lot of people by the way he played.”
Towns Sr. said his son was “right back in the laboratory (basketball court) just two days after returning home about a week ago.
“After he took those two days off, he was right back in the lab. I have been with him. Five hundred made 3-pointers, posts moves, free throws, lifting weights. We are in the gym a long time,” Towns Sr. said. “I rebound for him. Thank God most of his 3-pointers go in.
“He loves working out in the gym. He is happy to be back in school and he’s having a great time. He’s preparing his body for what’s next and looking forward to getting to Kentucky and joining a great team.”
* * *
Karl Towns and his father will both join us on WLAP (630 AM, wlap.com) at 9:30 a.m to talk Kentucky basketball. Give us a listen/call.
By LARRY VAUGHT
New Jersey standout Karl Towns doesn’t get to talk to UK coach John Calipari or UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua often because they are not allowed to contact him directly since technically is still only a high school sophomore even though he has reclassified to the 2014 recruiting class. Instead, Calipari contacts his coach and then information is relayed to Towns, who has already given his verbal commitment to UK.
“Coach tells me what they say and I tell him to tell them hi and wish them the best this year,” Towns said. “They tell me just to run the floor hard and stay positive and do all they taught me (during the summer). They tell me to remember all they told me and I try to use all the assets God gave me and dad and coach Cal taught me.
“Coach O (Orlando Antigua) is a great guy and I love him. But I went to Kentucky because it has the major I wanted, is a great school and has a great team and coaches. At the end of the day, that’s where I feel I can blossom into the player and person I want to be.”
He’s followed Kentucky’s up and down season regularly.
“I watch every game. I rush home to watch on TV or I am on my phone watching,” Towns said. “I am always up to date on Kentucky and making sure the Wildcats are doing well. They’ve had a hard road, but they will pick it up at the right time. Coach Cal will get them there. He’s just a special coach and will get it done.”
Towns got to experience that coaching first-hand during his time with the Dominican team when he had NBA players as teammates and played against NBA players and college players in exhibition and tournament games.
How hard was it to adjusting to playing against normal high school competition after that summer experience?
“It was very difficult to adjust to high school again. It was so different,” Towns said. “The physicality is so much less in high school, especially in New Jersey where they are very picky about touch fouls. With the Dominican team, I went against LeBron James, Kevin Love and others who were all very physical. I am always a physical guy and to be in high school and not be able to touch anybody is hard. It’s like I am intimidating and they (officials) have to give fouls to kids smaller than me. I have had to tone down my physicality and a lot of the things I did against NBA players. It just took me a little time to adjust to that, but I was fine by the time the season started.”
Towns plans to join the Dominican team again this summer even though Calipari won’t be coaching.
“I want to see who the coach will be, but I want to go out and work hard and lead the team to the Olympics (in 2016). It is so much fun playing with those guys. It’s great to play with competitive people like that. They make sure you play hard and get better. We learn from each other and how to fix flaws in our game and have fun doing it for us and our country,” Towns said.