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Thon Maker’s Age Controversy Could Change the NBA Draft As We Know It

Getty Images
Getty Images

With the 10th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Milwaukee Bucks selected 7-foot-1 Sudanese Australian big man Thon Maker. The move came as a bit of a shock, and not just because it revealed that the Bucks apparently have a secret five-year plan that involves assembling the lengthiest limbs available. The surprise also came down to ongoing speculation about how old Maker actually is:

Maker’s buzz started building when a highlight tape of him doing all sorts of fleet-footed things that shouldn’t have been possible for a 7-footer made the rounds, inspiring comparisons to Kevin Durant (who’s 6-foot-9, like a fox). The excitement over the five-star recruit meant he could basically have his pick of any big college program in the country, but he opted to make the jump from high school to the NBA.

In hindsight, Maker’s labyrinthine past — he was born in Sudan and lived in Uganda before immigrating to Australia as a refugee, later playing for high schools in the U.S. and Canada — was probably always going to invite prying eyes once he submitted himself to the draft process. Leading up to draft night, there were reports suggesting Maker was old enough to legally drink, and maybe even rent a car without any extra fees. In a situation not entirely dissimilar to when a bizarre video of Laremy Tunsil using a gas mask bong was tweeted from his account just before the NFL draft, the rising volume of questions about Maker’s age threatened to torpedo his draft stock. He went from top-rated prospect to out of the lottery on most draft boards, to possibly out of the first round.

His hoop dreams seemed to unravel further when one Reddit user dredged up a yearbook photo from Maker’s time in Perth, Australia, offering a story about how Maker graduated from Aranmore Catholic College (some levels of secondary schools are called college in Australia) in 2010:

“Surprised this has taken so long to come out, I live in the same city in Australia that Maker migrated too (Perth) and one of my friends showed me his older sisters graduation book — which Maker is pictured in and she graduated in 2010/2011 (making her 22–23 this year and most likely him).”

The response to the story was general skepticism, until another photo of the yearbook surfaced, placing Maker’s face right next to “The Graduating Class of 2010” page. The Maker Age conspiracy now had legs. Not that any of this seemed to matter to the Bucks.

In the face of all this theorizing, some have insisted that Maker couldn’t possibly be older than he claims. Just check out this detailed account from DraftExpress. There’s also a roster photo from Maker’s U-16 team, but since it doesn’t include a year or any real context, it’s not compelling enough to put this debate to bed.

If Reddit sleuths are to be believed, this is fraud, and there’s no two ways about it. If they’re wrong, this teenager who just pulled off an incredible feat is getting his name dragged through the mud for nothing more than lols and upvotes. For his part, Maker insists that he’s as old as he says he is, and seems pretty content to let people keep duking it out in forum message boards and on the timeline.

The same goes for Bucks GM John Hammond, who maintains that Maker is 19 as far as he’s concerned: “We’re comfortable with who he is, and what he is.”

“What he is” is this: an oak tree that can pick-and-pop and be relied upon to defend someone half his size in a switch. He can also do stuff like this. Who the hell cares how old he is? The question we should be concerning ourselves with is whether Maker is ushering in another prep-to-pro era. Why should any of these steeples with babyfaces go to college when they could just as easily sign a rookie contract after working out at a prep school for a year? Thon Maker did. Maybe others could, too.