Potential No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns has his eye on the Knicks

Marc J. Spears

Karl-Anthony Towns and his family couldn’t afford to buy tickets for him to see his beloved New York Knicks during his youth. But if the Ping-Pong balls bounce the right way during Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery in New York, the potential No. 1 pick could end up playing for the rebuilding franchise that he has watched since he was a child.

Big things are expected from Karl-Anthony Towns in the NBA. (AP)
Big things are expected from Karl-Anthony Towns in the NBA. (AP)

“I’ve always been a Knicks fan,” Towns, 19, told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview. “I never was able to afford passes to the games. We were able to afford cable and got the MSG channel so I could watch every Knick game. It made me more of a fan because I could watch every big game.

“My best friend was a Nets fan so it made for a cool rivalry. My favorite player for the Knicks is a tie between Walt Frazier and Patrick Ewing, but I liked Patrick Ewing a lot. But I’ve never been to a Knicks game. I could never afford to go there.”

Towns should soon be able to afford to see the Knicks or any NBA game because he is projected by DraftExpress.com to be the top player in the June 25 draft in New York.

The Knicks have the second-best odds to get the No. 1 pick at 19.9 percent, behind the Minnesota Timberwolves (25 percent). The last time the Knicks had the No. 1 pick was in 1985, when they selected Ewing.

Coming off their worst season in franchise history with 17 wins, the Knicks could certainly use a break by landing Towns. The 6-foot-11, 250-pound freshman averaged 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in just 21.1 minutes per game for a deep Kentucky team that advanced to the 2015 Final Four.

“He’s a great prospect who has a chance to be very, very good,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “Of the bigs in this draft, he has the most defensive potential. Everyone talks about how much more advanced Duke center Jahlil Okafor is offensively, but I don’t know if that’s true.

“Towns has deep shooting range and he has a chance to be a stretch big man in the NBA, which he wasn’t able to show at Kentucky. I would say he would be the No. 1 pick.”

While being selected by the Knicks would be a childhood dream for Towns, he says he is open-minded about any team drafting him.

“It would be an honor and a privilege to play for the Knicks organization,” Towns said. “But wherever the chips fall, the chips fall. I just can’t wait to play basketball at the next level.”

Towns may never have had the chance to see the Knicks in person, but he actually played against the NBA’s best players when he was 16.

Following his freshman year at Metuchen (N.J.) St. Joseph’s High School, Towns was on the Dominican Republic team that played against the United States’ national team in an exhibition game in Las Vegas on July 12, 2012. That USA team, which was preparing for the London Olympics, included LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant, but Towns expressed the most excitement at the time about playing against Kobe Bryant. Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers have the fourth-best odds in the lottery of landing the top pick at 11.9 percent. The third-best odds (15.6 percent) belong to the Philadelphia 76ers.

“The biggest thing I took away from that game was a confidence level that I could play with these players, that I can play with the best of the best,” Towns said. “Kobe talked to me. ... He told me to make sure I keep working hard and he talked about some other things. We had a good conversation.”

Towns was in Los Angeles last Thursday sitting on the baseline not far from the Clippers’ bench as they had a chance to close out the Houston Rockets in Game 6 of the second-round series.

In the third NBA game he’s ever attended, he witnessed the Clippers blow a 19-point lead in the second half before falling 119-107 to the Rockets. The Rockets won Game 7 on Sunday to advance to the Western Conference finals.

“NBA games are never over until the final horn,” said Towns, who had previously attended a pair of Nets games that didn’t quite compare to Game 6. “You have to keep playing and keep fighting. I was stunned. That was a big deficit.

“It was really awesome. I was just wishing I was on the other side actually playing.”

More NBA coverage: