Wildcats eye Sudanese giant
From a pathway of poverty in South Sudan to a soccer-playing childhood in Perth, Thon Maker may soon cash in on the riches of one of the world's premier sporting competitions - the NBA.
Much of the basketball world has been talking about the 214cm Maker and his 209cm younger brother Matur, who are playing together at Canada's Athlete Institute.
The Perth Wildcats are trying to woo the 18-year-old elder sibling to play with them next season and Australian Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis confirmed this week he recently met the Makers and their guardian Ed Smith in Toronto.
Both are firmly on his radar for future national selection.
"He comes up in every conversation we have about talent," Lemanis said. "I really enjoyed my time with both Thon and Matur, they're both good kids and exciting prospects.
"It could be another great story for basketball in this country."
Maker, who lived in Perth for nearly a decade from age five, is the star of several slam-dunking, shot-blocking, sweet-shooting internet highlight reels viewed millions of times online worldwide.
He was once described as having "more potential than Apple stock circa 1980".
But the story behind his emergence is being kept a closely-guarded secret. His Perth-based sister declined to be interviewed this week as did two friends contacted by The Weekend West.
"This is Thon's wish not to get his family and friends going to the media," one said.
But Wildcats managing director Nick Marvin did not hide his want to try to get the extraordinarily talented big man in front of his club's red army of supporters at Perth Arena.
"Given his time in Australia was primarily in WA, we hope he would feel at home with us," Mr Marvin said.
"It would also be a great opportunity for him to continue to improve away from the bright lights and in front of the local fans."
Maker recently decided to "reclassify" his basketball status, which would allow him to play college basketball in the US next year and also nominate for the 2016 NBA draft.
Mr Marvin said joining the Wildcats as a development player would not hinder his college ambitions.
Until recently, Maker was being touted as a potential No. 2 pick in the draft behind fellow Australian Ben Simmons.
While Simmons, son of NBL legend Dave, starred at last month's Nike Hoops Summit in Portland and held his spot on top of the mock list, Maker performed only modestly and slipped down the list last week to No. 30.
But most scouts, including Lemanis, are still courting a teenager they believe has enormous potential once he bulks up.
"I'd like to see him in and around our guys to truly get a feel for where he's at coming up against men," he said.
"We've got the Rio Olympics coming up next year and hopefully there will be an opportunity that presents to get him in and around us then."
Attempts this week to contact Maker, who only started playing basketball in 2010, were ignored, but in a recent interview he said he was keen to be a role model for aspiring Sudanese athletes.
"It's a lot to hold on your shoulders, but I always think, you know, if I'm holding all of this and knowing other people are looking up to you doing all of that stuff, it's nice," he said with a profoundly American accent.
"But at the same time, I have to produce and perform and let them know it's not just a show-type thing."