Before he was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, the starting center on the Minnesota Timberwolves and one of just four players in the last 30 years to log double-doubles in six of his first eight NBA games, Karl-Anthony Towns was just a starstruck high-school basketball player thrilled by the chance to interview one of his basketball idols.
During Thursday night's broadcast of the Timberwolves' 129-116 loss to the Golden State Warriors, TNT showed a clip from the archives of New York metropolitan area high school sports network MSG Varsity in which a precocious high-school freshman named Karl Towns, who'd just begun starring at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, N.J., chopped it up with Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant before a matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers. It is pretty great.
“Did anyone in your whole life playing basketball — did they ever make you feel that you had to work harder than them, and they acted like they were better just to make you feel like a better player and be a better player?” Towns asks, in a hurry-up-but-oh-man-I-am-having-trouble-stopping-I-better-get-circle-for-a-landing-on-this-question-here's-the-microphone-now cadence instantly recognizable to anybody who's ever gotten tongue-tied in the middle of an interview question. (You can't see this, but I am pointing two thumbs directly back at myself right now. Well, not right now. I need thumbs for the space bar. But you get the idea.)
"Yeah, for sure, my brother was always a guy who pushed me to be the best I could be," Durant answered, warmly and patiently.
After getting some advice about how to approach his pursuit of the NBA dream, Towns wished Durant "continued success" in his professional endeavors. I'd say that's worked out pretty well for KD, and evidently, it panned out OK for Towns, too, considering how he went on to conclude his freshman season at St. Joe's. From a June 2015 interview with his high-school coach, Dave Turco, by Jason Jordan of USA TODAY:
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Karl on the court back in high school?
Dave Turco: Wow, that’s tough because he’s had so many of them. I would say it was his freshman year playing in our first state championship. We were down for the majority of the game then started to make a decent comeback and he had a signature four-point play. It was a 25-foot shot and-one to put us up two late in the game and we never relinquished the lead to eventually lead us to the school’s first-ever state championship. It was against Paul VI, who we went on to beat for three-consecutive years for our sectional title.
JJ: What’s your best memory of Karl off the court back then?
DT: Hmm, probably when he interviewed Kevin Durant in Philadelphia for MSG. Just seeing Karl interact with him was cool. He’s so mature.
That maturity made an impression on Durant, who looked back on his meeting with Towns during a recent interview with HoopsHype.
"Yeah, he was really sharp," Durant said. "He was wise beyond his years. That was something I picked up on, really, as soon as I started talking to him."
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What he didn't pick up on just yet, though, was the talent that would carry Towns to National Player of the Year and McDonald's All-American honors, make him one of the most prized recruits in the country, land him under John Calipari's wing at Kentucky, and eventually result in him being the top pick in the NBA draft.
"I really didn't know he would be this good," Durant said. "I hadn't seen him play when we talked. Everybody was telling me how good he was at the time, but, y'know, he's in the big boy league now, so if you make it up there, that says something about you."
Through eight career games, Towns is more than just making it at the NBA level.
He's averaging 16.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.1 assists in just 29.1 minutes per game, shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 88.9 percent from the free-throw line. He's grabbing 20 percent of available boards and blocking 7.5 percent of opponents' shots during his time on the floor, both top-10 NBA marks, and has already shown an enviable combination of preternatural understanding of defensive positioning, foot speed and agility. Coming out of Kentucky, many projected Towns as a major interior difference-maker in the years to come; by the looks of things, he already is one, which makes you salivate over just how good he could become.
While Durant might not have seen this coming when the two met years ago, he might've had an inkling of what could be coming when Towns, at the tender age of 16, suited up for the Dominican Republic's national team (coached by Cal, natch) against Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Team USA during a 2012 exhibition:
Towns would square off against the U.S. again in the summer of 2014 in a FIBA World Cup tune-up before he shipped off for Lexington. He saw only 10 minutes of playing time in the Team USA rout, but he knew he belonged on that court.
“It’s been a great experience,” Towns told Shlomo Sprung of SheridanHoops. “I played against them two years ago with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and everyone. This is a more youthful group, a little more athletic. It goes to show that in two years I’ve grown a lot as a player and my body has definitely grown. I felt like I did a good job of holding myself down there and being active and playing like I should be.”
Towns has kept growing, developing and improving, marking him as one of the most inspiring prospects to enter the league in some time and an early favorite for Rookie of the Year honors. KD, who's now working his way back from a strained hamstring after a hot start to the season, will have to wait until January for his first up-close-and-personal look at the current version of his former interviewer. On that night, one suspects, Towns will momentarily suspend his wishes for Durant's ongoing success; we can only hope he does so while also using his established reporting chops to try to get a quote about KD's free-agency plans in the middle of the game.
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