The number one high school basketball player in America, regardless of class, is Australian-Sudanese born basketball player Thon Maker.
Maker has an interesting back story which has led him to this stage of his basketball career, but what’s most interesting about Maker’s story is the man credited with finding him.
His name is Ed Smith.
Smith, an American basketball scout based in Australia, is an outspoken critic of Australian basketball’s youth development system, and has labelled it as a “Ma and Pop operation”.
What Smith is most critical of within youth basketball in Australia is that in order for kids to play basketball they have to pay a fee, which he believes excludes underprivileged kids from playing the sport.
So, in recent years, Smith has dedicated himself to developing young Sudanese immigrant basketball players.
Before Maker, Smith had developed another Sudanese Australian Basketball player in Ater Majok, who gained a full basketball scholarship to the University of Connecticut.
Unfortunately for Majok, his time at the University of Connecticut was plagued by issues surrounding his eligibility and his overall recruitment to the university.
Even when he elected to leave to enter the NBA Draft, controversy reigned on the reasons he left early, Majok even stated “I didn’t want to leave as I stayed all summer, this decision to leave wasn’t mine”.
In light of the controversies surrounding his time at the University of Connecticut, Majok’s mentor, faced harsh criticism.
Majok did eventually get drafted into the NBA by the Los Angeles Lakers, with the 58th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, but never played a minute.
With Majok having played in several different countries with no certainty over his playing future, his relationship with Smith became fractured, with Majok questioning Smith’s intentions and why he tried to interfere with the way he was being coached at the University of Connecticut.
With little prospect of Majok panning out, Smith went back to the drawing board and started the process of finding his next great prospects.
Smith who runs a basketball academy in Sydney, Australia, found his next prospect in 14-year-old Thon Maker.
Maker—like Majok—is a Sudanese immigrant whose uncle helped him escape and claim refugee status in Perth.
Smith with his many basketball connections in Perth, was interested in creating a basketball academy for Sudanese players, but saw a young Maker playing soccer and advised Maker’s aunt that she should let him take Maker to Sydney with him, to be educated and to help develop his basketball skills, which his aunt agreed.
While bringing Maker to Sydney to live with him, Smith had Maker’s guardianship signed over to him.
People close to Maker back in Perth stated that between 2010 and 2011, Maker was not enrolled at high school and was home schooled by Smith’s wife.
Smith persisted with Maker’s basketball development and signed him up to the St George Basketball Club and paid for his fees.
Maker was able to establish himself on the local scene and became a dominant force.
As the finals of the local competition were approaching, Maker left with no explanation and attended a talent camp in Texas leaving his team dumfounded.
Since arriving in America, Maker has played for three different high schools in two different states, it is also believed that Smith has relocated with Maker to the United States.
Local Sudanese basketball authorities in Australia on one hand applaud what Smith is doing, they believe he is giving opportunities to underprivileged immigrants to play the game of basketball at an elite level, which Australian basketball isn’t doing.
But they are also weary of Smith’s motives, as they believe he has too much control over Maker where no-one else can gain access to him.
They also fear that if Maker tries to break free, his career will end up like Majok’s.
With Australia’s flawed junior basketball system, scouts like Smith are really the only option for young underprivileged immigrant basketball players to have a shot at elite basketball and the NBA.