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Through the winter and into the spring, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that 2020 five-star center Makur Maker was a lock to turn down the college route and explore his professional options. And then in April, the 6-foot-11 center put pen to paper, submitting his paperwork to officially declare for the NBA Draft.
At the time, though, Maker announced he would not be hiring an agent and would leave the door open for a potential move to the college ranks, singling out UCLA, Oregon, Kentucky, and Auburn as four possible options should he withdraw. And then on Sunday, college basketball insider Jon Rothstein
doubled down on Maker's interest in college, reporting that Kentucky and UCLA had emerged as the favorites in the five-star center's recruitment, at least among schools.
So where did this buzz come from? And more importantly, is Maker - the No. 16 overall prospect and No. 3 center in the 2020 247Sports Composite Rankings - genuinely considering college?
In short, yes, but it's complicated.
Despite being invested in the NBA Draft process, Maker and his camp want college coaches to know there is, in fact, a possibility he pulls his name out of the draft and goes to college. At the same time, they aren't encouraging schools to hold out for his potential addition or pass on other top prospects on their recruiting boards, knowing there is still a chance he keeps his name in the draft.
Finding that happy medium with interested schools - including Kentucky - is what Maker is currently trying to accomplish.
"We have to be respectful that coaches still have to recruit," Maker's guardian, Edward Smith, told KSR Monday evening. "So let's say UK still has to recruit their own guys. We don't even know when the deadline is, we don't know when workouts are going to be, or if there are
going to be any workouts. It would be unfair to those college coaches, almost like we're trying to string them along. ... They have to move ahead, because what if he doesn't pull out? You know? What if he doesn't pull out of the draft and they say they're holding a scholarship for him?
"What we've always been is truly transparent with them, we tell them to go on and do their job. We like you. We like these schools, [Kentucky, UCLA, Oregon, and Auburn] are the schools we like. If he pulls out, and there's an opportunity there, then we'll consider those schools."
Regarding his NBA decision and where things stand, intrigue is there, but questions remain.
On one end, teams see the elite potential and size. On the other, viewing opportunities have been limited in recent months, especially considering the five-star center missed five weeks of action in the fall due to a high ankle sprain. Without the opportunity to see him in person with individual and team workouts due to the coronavirus pandemic, franchises are a bit more hesitant.
"Within this period of time we would have had the [Nike] Hoop Summit, the Iverson Classic, we would've had some good feedback coming out of that going into workouts. We could've made an educated decision from there," Smith told KSR. "... People are intrigued, but they're saying they want to see more. They want to touch him. The feedback has been that, yeah, he's an NBA talent. They believe that 100%, he's an NBA talent. But based on the information they had, they last saw him when he had been out for five weeks and he came right back after a high ankle sprain. It was his first tournament back. Some people saw him after the [2019 SC30 Select Camp] where he was really good and in tip-top shape. He had a great summer where he rose in the rankings, as high as No. 2 in one, but top-five in all of them.
"But injuries happen, they're a part of the game. I thought he should sit out, but he wanted to play with his teammates [right after the ankle sprain]. We thought we'd get another opportunity at the Hoop Summit and beyond, but that never happened."
With questions surrounding the draft process and potential workouts, Maker's focus now shifts to fit more than draft range. If teams express that he'll be spending the majority of his time in the G League or the opportunity for growth within interested organizations is minimal, college will be the preferential option.
"It's more about fit for Makur, not about specific draft range. We think he's a lottery talent, I think he's a lottery talent, but it's about role and fit," Smith told KSR. "Teams can like him [in the first and second round], but still put him in the G League. We could have gone that route if we wanted to, but that's not what Makur wants to do."
If feedback ramps up and a lottery team expresses interest in taking a shot on the near-seven-footer or they find a strong fit with a long-term blueprint plan for success, though, things would likely swing in the NBA's favor. In short, favorable draft feedback in the coming weeks and leading up to the withdrawal deadline would likely be hard to pass up.
"If a team in the, say, lottery gives him a guarantee, it'd be hard to turn down an opportunity like that, you know what I'm saying?" Smith told KSR. "It just depends. It just depends on if and when Makur can work out for teams and continue to get feedback."
Speaking of the G League, there were earlier rumblings that Maker was interested in joining the NBA's new professional pathway program, a league that has already signed the likes of fellow five-star prospects Jalen Green, Daishen Nix, and Isaiah Todd this offseason. According to Smith, though, that interest was short-lived and the G League is no longer in consideration.
"We were in discussions and headed down that path [toward a contract], but we decided it would be the NBA Draft or college," Smith said. "The G League is a great program, don't get me wrong, but we're confident in our two options."
Regarding schools in contention, Smith confirmed that Kentucky and UCLA have been the most consistent in communicating with Maker 's camp and likely sit as the top options for the five-star center, but noted that Auburn and Oregon remain in contention.
"[Kentucky associate head coach] Kenny Payne will call every once in a while and check in, ask how things are going. I'll call him every once in a while and check in," Smith said. "And then Mick Cronin at UCLA, he offered on May 5. He's been [consistently talking with us too]."
With the Wildcats specifically, Maker has been following UK and the success they've seen over the years with elite big men, something that is drawing him to the Kentucky program.
"He's been watching Kentucky his whole life," Smith told KSR. "He's paid attention to the draft success and the development of their [frontcourt players]."
This falls in line with what the five-star center said at last summer's NBPA Top 100 Camp, telling KSR that he was extremely interested in the Kentucky basketball program and its history with NBA talent in the frontcourt.
“Coach Calipari is a good guy,” Maker said. “[When he visited my home last April] he sat down with me and my guardian, spoke about some things, how they see me at Kentucky and how I fit. Just talking to me, personally. He was giving me tips. What it takes there to be on the floor, and what he would expect from me. He’s a good person.
“They have a lot of great players that come through there. You know, [Karl-Anthony Towns], Boogie Cousins, from top to bottom,” he said. “Coach Calipari really takes care of his players, demands a lot, but in return, you have to go out there and get what you want out of it.”
Should he pull his name out of the draft and decide to move forward with the recruiting process, Maker's guardian is confident there will be no eligibility issues regarding his academic status with the NCAA. While he understands there may be some questions about his journey and the numerous schools he has attended throughout his high school career, Smith says they were all calculated moves to high-profile academic institutions.
"No, there are no eligibility concerns," Smith said, adding that Maker has remained in solid academic standing at each of his stops at Chaminade College Prep, Orange Lutheran, Prolific Prep North (Canada), and Pacific Academy. "We've been very specific about choosing quality academic institutions [throughout his high school career]."
No matter which way Maker decides to go, Smith tells KSR that the process is expected to last all the way through the final withdrawal deadline and they are in no rush to make a decision.
"We're just getting started," he said.
Kentucky boasts the No. 1 recruiting class in 2020, featuring the likes of five-star guards BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke, and Devin Askew, five-star forwards Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware, and four-star forward Cam'Ron Fletcher. UK has also signed Creighton guard Davion Mintz on the graduate transfer market, along with Wake Forest center Olivier Sarr and Rhode Island forward Jacob Toppin as traditional transfers.