HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Karl-Anthony Towns appeared totally prepared for a perfect performance in the final big moment of his high school career.
But, really, he says he wasn’t at all.
Moments after the 7-foot-1 basketball star from St. Joseph (Metuchen, N.J.) won the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award, he put on quite a performance for the crowd at the Loews Hollywood Hotel.
First, he thanked his mother for cooking so well because, you know, he’s “a big guy.” But then he quickly became more serious. When Towns began talking about his father’s sacrifices to ensure his son would have every opportunity, he fought back tears in giving example after example. The crowd of adults buzzed about the 18-year-old’s speech after the event – and they didn’t even know he hadn’t planned it.
“I just ad-libbed up there; I didn’t think I was going to win,” he said. “I went up there and saw the hardware in my hand, and thought about all the hardships I had to go through. I thought what my family did. When they said my name, I was in complete shock.
“Going up there, I looked down at my parents’ faces and how proud they were, and I came down to tears. I was thinking about how much they had to do for me to put clothes on my back and shoes on my feet. … I had to move constantly. I had to live with my sister. My parents were working so many jobs. All those things came to my mind at that moment.”
The night marked a basketball sweep, as Manvel (Texas) star Brianna Turner took home the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award. The announcement came at a dinner preceding Wednesday’s ESPY Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, where all 12 of this year’s Gatorade National Player of the Year winners will walk the red carpet as special guests.
“I was speechless,” Turner said. “This has just been awesome. You know, I looked back and two years ago, I tweeted about how it was a dream to go to the ESPYs. I can’t believe I’m going to be part of it now.”
Towns, who is headed to Kentucky, was presented the award by Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, the 2011 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year, alongside Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson, as well as Milwaukee Bucks guard and former two-time national Gatorade winner Brandon Knight.
He led St. Joseph to a 30-2 record and the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title this past season. He averaged 20.9 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocks per game, and graduated with a 3.96 grade-point avearge. He also plays to piano, served as a member of his school’s student council and has volunteered on behalf of multiple charitable organizations.
“Having a GPA is more important than 20 points a night,” he said.
Turner, 18, was presented the award by two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion Mia Hamm along with 2014 FIFA World Cup Team USA defender Omar Gonzalez and Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl running back Eddie Lacy.
She guided Manvel to a 38-2 record and the Class 5A state championship this past season, averaging 20.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.2 steals, 3.9 blocks and 3.7 steals in just 23 minutes per game. Turner, who will play at Notre Dame, graduated with a 3.78 GPA and also was highly active in several charities.
Gatorade’s High School Athlete of the Year program began in 2003 and winners are chosen annually from the program’s 12 National Player of the Year honorees by a select national electorate of prep sports experts. The National Player of the Year award selection process is administered by USA TODAY High School Sports in collaboration with Gatorade. The award recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field of play.
Chad Konecky contributed to this story.