Seven-time NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning was at St. Joseph High (Metuchen, NJ) to do the surprising, but the 6-foot-10 former pro was taken aback when 7-foot-1 senior Karl Towns, Jr. walked into the room. “I didn’t realize how tall you are,” marveled Mourning as he presented the teen with the 2013-14 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year trophy. The award produced the desired effect.
“This is the greatest moment of my life,” said Towns, 18, a Kentucky commit. “To think about all the work I’ve put in and to see it pay off in such a memorable way. I’m stunned by the chance to hold this trophy and I’m so grateful.”
The 250-pound centerled the Falcons to a 30-2 record and the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title this past season. The state’s returning Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year, Towns averaged 20.9 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocks per game. He shot 66.1 percent from the field and 82.2 from the foul line this year, sinking 127 shots from beyond the arc over the past three seasons, including 51.6 percent accuracy as a senior.
“This is a very impressive young man,” said Mourning, 44, also an Olympic gold medalist and now Vice President of Player Programs with the Miami Heat. “For Karl to find a way to implement his on-court work ethic in other aspects of his life is unique. With all the distractions kids have in their lives, he sacrificed a summer to graduate early and take another step toward his goal of becoming a doctor. He knows that one day, the ball is going to stop bouncing. That attitude is what this award is about.”
A member of the Dominican Republic National Team and a three-time First Team All-State honoree, Towns has been selected to play in this spring’s Jordan Brand Classic and McDonald’s All-American Game. He is also a likely World team roster invitee at the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit. Towns led St. Joseph to a 26-0 record against in-state competition this year as the Falcons recorded a 30-win season for the first time in program history. After reaching the TOC Final Four in three straight seasons and losing in last year’s title game, St. Joseph became the first Middlesex County team win the event in its 26-year history. The Falcons have won three consecutive Non-Public A state titles.
“Karl’s ability to play on perimeter, his overall skill set and his understanding of the game, well, an NBA GM would have to consider him as a potential No. 1 draft pick,” said Life Center Academy (NJ) head coachPervis Ellison, a former No. 1 draft pick, Final Four MVP and 11-year NBA veteran. “With his skill set, Karl can post up, shoot the 3-pointer and stretch the court. They talk about five-tool players in baseball? Karl is that in basketball. He’s a multi-dimensional offensive force. I’ve seen him shoot, and he’s already a pro shooter. I’ve played with Ray Allen and I know what of I speak. Towns can shoot it like a pro. Already.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court. Towns is now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Towns has maintained a weighted GPA of 3.66 in the classroom. A longtime piano pupil, he has served as a member of student council and has volunteered on behalf of multiple charitable organizations, including Parents of Autistic Children, the Mary Kline Classic benefitting cancer research and the Scholarship Fund for Inner-City Children. Towns has also donated his time to the REED Academy for students with autism spectrum disorders, Team Izod Basketball for youth players and the Falcons summer basketball camp. A student assistant in the school guidance department and a sports therapy intern at East Coast Conditioning in Edison as a senior, he also works extensively with St. Joseph’s admissions-outreach and student-orientation initiatives.
Towns becomes the 10th prep athlete from New Jersey to win national Gatorade honors in any sport. He joins a distinguished list of national-winner alumni from the Garden State, including 14-year NBA veteran Al Harrington (St. Patrick, Elizabeth), who won in 1998, Detroit Tigers’ right-handed starter Rick Porcello, the 2007 winner in baseball, former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Claudio Reyna (St. Benedict’s Prep, Newark), the 1991 winner in soccer, and former MLS Cup MVP Alecko Eskandarian (Bergen Catholic, Oradell), who won in 2000.
California has produced the most national winners in the award program’s 29-year history with 60 followed by Texas (28), Florida (20) and Illinois (15).