Road to stardom began in NJ for ‘renaissance man’ Towns

Written By kom nampuldu on Rabu, 01 April 2015 | 18.18

There is his future as a multi-millionaire. His status as the best player on 38-0 Kentucky. His dominant two way-skills that could make him the No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft.

But Karl-Anthony Towns, the basketball player, is a distant second to Karl-Anthony Towns the person.

Karl-Anthony Towns the person is a beloved and immensely talented 19-year-old from Piscataway, N.J. and St. Joseph's of Metuchen who would rather dive into a good book than go out partying, who refuses to talk about himself unless forced, who would make baked goods for his teachers, who spent his free Saturdays prior to college volunteering with his girlfriend on behalf of the charitable organization Parents of Autistic Children, who served on the student council, who is far from the typical prospect who lives and breathes basketball, who is an avid golfer and pianist.

"We're talking about a very special kid," said Ed Bright, his AAU coach with Sports U. "He's a Renaissance man."

Ask for a story about this strapping 7-footer and you get three — tales about his unselfishness on and off the court, of his reluctance to be the star until he was an upperclassman, of his love for his family, of his decision to finish high school in three years while maintaining a 4.2 grade-point average while leading St. Joe's to its first Tournament of Champions crown.

"He's the student you hope everybody grows up to be," St. Joe's guidance counselor Kelly Schnier said.

It starts with his parents, Karl Sr. and Jacqueline. Their four children were raised to be well-rounded. From a young age they demanded two hours of reading or studying, anything to advance their children's minds. Karl-Anthony had to maintain an A average in high school or he couldn't play sports. It never was tested.

Karl-Anthony, of course, is known for his ability with a basketball, for leading St. Joe's to three state titles in as many years — three more than the school had before his arrival — for being named to the McDonald's All-American Game and winning Gatorade National Player of the Year honors after averaging 20.9 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocked shots as a senior, for his brilliant Elite Eight performance, when he carried Kentucky to a come-from-behind win with a sterling 25-point game, and his stellar freshman year on at team that could go down as one of the greatest of all time. He was a personal winning streak of 48 games, 38 with the top-ranked Wildcats this season after winning his final 10 high school games.

He got an early start in the sport, tagging along to his father's practices with Piscataway Tech High School from the age of 5. Karl-Anthony would work out with the junior varsity while his dad ran varsity practice. As he got older, he shot up, to 6-6 by the seventh grade. He began getting a shot against the varsity then, playing so well they wanted him to join the team.

"He killed my kids," Karl Sr. recalled with a chuckle. "In eighth grade he was better than my seniors."

Karl Towns Sr. proudly shows some of his son's trophies at their Piscataway, N.J., home.Photo: Bill Kostroun

It never went to his head.

"It was always about the team," St. Joe's athletic director Jerry Smith said.

There was one day he was watching a flag football game and one of his classmates, whom he didn't even know, broke his nose. Karl-Anthony followed him to the hospital because the teen's parents couldn't be there. He was back in town for a few days and made sure to not only visit his old school, but tutor some of its big men on the post moves he was learning at Kentucky. Another time, a former St. Joseph student was killed in Afghanistan during his sophomore season, Smith said. Towns didn't know him but heard the Marine's sister say at a memorial service that he would have been 25 that day.

In his next game, Karl-Anthony scored with ease through three quarters against Perth Amboy High, but stopped shooting when he reached 25.

"I wanted to honor the boy who passed away," Karl-Anthony told Smith afterward. "He would've been 25."

Schnier often gave lessons to her students about student loans and how much hers piled up after college, how to schedule them properly. In exchange, he schooled her on the value of coupons. Whenever Karl-Anthony walked into her office, he had a newspaper under his arm him full of them.

"He is the biggest cheapskate you can meet," she said jokingly.

Karl-Anthony joined the Dominican National Team at the age of 16, playing under Kentucky coach John Calipari and alongside Hawks forward Al Horford. Early in the summer preceding his junior year, he felt the need to challenge himself, felt ready for college. So entering his junior year, he told his parents he wanted to graduate a year early, merge his senior and junior years together. The school was wary of such a move, particularly for someone who did so many extracurricular activities. But Karl-Anthony was adamant he could juggle all the extra credits.

"Trust me," he told them, "I can do it."

He spent the entire summer taking classes. He had no free periods once the school year began. He took extra online courses, staying up until 3 in the morning to get his homework done and rising early for a full schedule of classes the following day.

"I couldn't have done it," Karl Sr. said bluntly. His son still managed to graduate with a 4.2 grade-point average. "When Karl sets his mind on something he doesn't deviate from it."

Focus never has been an issue for Karl-Anthony. He has juggled sports and academics fine. He just felt this was more of it. A night out for him was meeting friends for ice cream.

"Our motto has always been [bad] things happen after midnight," Karl Sr. said. "He didn't party, he didn't drink. He was always focused on his basketball, he was focused on his education, and he was focused on all the things in life he wants to do. He wants to build a hospital in the Dominican Republic. He wants to be a kinesiologist."

Karl-Anthony Towns with his sister, Lachelle.Photo: Bill Kostroun

There is a debate raging among NBA scouts and analysts, a debate that will continue beyond this weekend and into May. Who should be the No. 1 pick, Duke phenom Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony?

For the time being, the family couldn't care less. Karl Sr. claims his son hasn't brought up the NBA once this year. When asked, he politely says, "no comment." Karl Sr. won't even say if there is a chance his son will return to school for another year. The NBA isn't a concern. The Final Four was always his dream. That's the focus.

Karl-Anthony and Karl Sr. would watch the NCAA Tournament every year, and when Final Four weekend arrived, Karl-Anthony always would tell his dad he would be on that stage one day. Karl Sr. was happy his son had such high aspirations, but he also knew the odds were long.

"I was like, 'Oh boy, Karl it's a little bit harder than you think," Karl Sr. recalled.
It obviously wasn't easy, all those days he was in a gym when his friends were hanging out, all the extra classes he took to qualify a year early. After the win over Notre Dame in Cleveland on the Quicken Loans Arena floor, as his teammates were cutting down the net, Karl reminded his father of how far he has come, all the sacrifices he made.

"After all these years and the hard work I put in, I finally reaped the benefits," Karl-Anthony told his father. "I said I was going to do it, and I did it."


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