Former five-star recruit Makur Maker is hoping to finally enter the NBA after spending his first professional season with the Sydney Kings in Australia’s NBL.
Maker, who became the highest-ranked high school player to commit to an HBCU but ended up playing only two games at Howard University, is featured in the Apple TV+ documentary Big Man on Campus, where he gives us a look at the trials and tribulations he went through with his injury and the pandemic.
As the 2022 NBA draft is around the corner, the 6-foot-11 Maker talked with HoopsHype about his journey and the outlook of his young career.
It seems like you’re always on the move. Tell me a bit about your journey
Makur Maker: I’ve been traveling since I been a young kid. It’s all just to chase my dream. Been a long journey, but I’m really enjoying it. Grew up in Australia, then traveled to L.A. when I was young to pursue my basketball dreams. And then from there on just moved to follow the competition.
How did the documentary come to life?
MM: It came to life after I made my commitment to Howard [University]. I had a good relationship with the producer (Seth Gordon), and we put the documentary together from there.
It was tough – more so tough trying to get games to play. As seen in the documentary, I was itching to play. I fell short because the pandemic affects everyone pretty bad.
When you saw your cousin Thon get drafted, what were you thinking, and did that give yourself hope to make it into the league?
MM: I thought it was well deserved. He earned it. I was surprised he got drafted, and it not only gave hope to me, but it gave a lot of hope to South Sudanese kids – where I’m from. Getting somebody drafted that high, and coming from where we come from, it was very rare and for that to happen, it definitely inspired a lot of people.
Definitely, I always thought I could make it to the NBA. I’m still working on trying to make it.
Do you think had the pandemic not happened, you would have been a top draft pick in 2020?
MM: Yeah definitely. I was coming off a good summer. I was killing guys. I’m seeing guys get drafted in the top picks, I was killing them all. Good matchups. COVID happened. [Nike] Hoop Summit was canceled. Allen Iverson Roundball Classic was canceled also. I was MVP of the Steph Curry camp. I definitely do think so.
What was going through your mind when you saw your peers in the 2020 and 2021 NBA Draft get drafted?
MM: I was definitely thinking that I should belong in that category, but at the same time, everyone’s journey is different. I can’t really think about that too much. I’m happy for those guys. We compete and everything, but at the same time, it’s ‘achieve your dreams,’ so I was just happy for them.
Had you gone to another college, do you think your draft stock would be much higher? Why?
MM: I’m not sure, a lot of people say that, but I don’t have the answers for it. The only thing that would definitely have helped my draft stock is if we’d play games. I only played two games that season, and it got cut short. I wish everyone got to see me for the whole season I was there. I guarantee you we would have went to the NCAA tournament.
What has the unfortunate events of the pandemic (cancellation of season, injury) taught you about fighting through adversity?
MM: It definitely builds resilience towards you. Leading up to your ultimate goal, you’re gonna face things that are unexpected. It’s always about how you adapt to the situation and how you move forward. Not everything is going to be a nice smooth path. You gotta have some hardships getting to where you trying to get.
After you visited a bunch of NBA teams after the 2021 NBA Combine, what did you realize you needed to work on?
MM: The biggest thing was my body of work. I hadn’t played a lot of games at Howard. Fortunately, I got to play at Sydney. I played a role over there, and I was contributing, and we just won a championship. So hopefully teams can look at that and that would be a checkmark.
You mentioned in the documentary that Chase Buford (Bucks) and Chris Pongrass (Grizzlies) were part of the Sydney Kings staff. Did they give you any knowledge about the NBA?
MM: Moreso, just whatever [playing] time you’re given, make the most out of it. Don’t take a possession off, just keep going as hard as you can, that’s the biggest thing I learned from them.
Luc Longley was also part of the staff. Andrew Bogut, the No 1 pick, was also on the staff. I was surrounded by great teammates, who also played in the NBA: Ian Clark, Jarell Martin, and Jaylen Adams…that whole positive energy, just being around them every single day. That’s the most you can ask for when you’re trying to make it to the NBA.
Just being around them, those guys have been in the NBA. They’ve won championships at the NBA level. That’s a great stepping stone heading into the NBA, and it gives me an advantage over my peers.
What do you feel like you’ve done in the past season that you think should solidify you to be more than just a second-round pick (projected)?
MM: The biggest thing is just the right fit. A team that sees my skill and potential. [I’m] willing to build off that. This last year in the NBL I used it as my rookie year. I didn’t get a chance to play a lot – I didn’t get the minutes I wanted to. I had to shift my mindset and play a role that can contribute to winning. That was rebounding, defending, running the lane hard, scoring, setting good screens, things like that to win a championship, and we were able to do that.
Getting into the NBA my biggest thing is whenever I’m on the floor is just trying to impact the game. Of course, I’m a competitor and I want to be in the starting five, and I will compete to earn that spot.