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Thon Maker, mixtapes and the unrealistic expectations mixtapes can produce

Feb 10, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT

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Adidas Hoops

If you weren’t swallowed up by the Marcus Smart fan-shoving incident over the weekend, you probably saw social media buzzing about the latest big high school basketball mixtape of 7-foot high school sophomore Thon Maker.

The mixtape, produced by Ty Kish of CityLeagueHoopsTV, shows the 7-foot Maker of Carlise High School in Martinsville, Va., displaying the jaw-dropping length, athleticism and skill that has vaulted Maker into the consensus top-five discussion for basketball prospects in the 2016 class. Some services have even put Maker at No. 1 and it isn’t hard to see why based on some of the highlights seen in Maker’s latest mixtape.

But when media outlets begin to pick up on these high school mixtapes and start attaching NBA names to the equation — as happened with alarming regularity with the Maker mixtape over the weekend — that is when things start to get dicey. Websites such as Deadspin and The Big Lead mentioned Kevin Durant after watching Maker’s mixtape and that is when things start to get dangerous. One news organization even gave Maker the outrageous distinction of having the potential to be a hybrid of Kevin Durant and Chris Paul.

If you were to take the time to see Maker play — as I have in multiple events last spring and summer — or look at his stats on the grassroots circuit in the Nike EYBL, you’d see those Kevin Durant comparisons aren’t really all that close. Thon Maker played two grade levels up for prestigious AAU program Boo Williams and led the very difficult EYBL in blocked shots and blocked shots per game last spring. Maker also shot 40 percent from the field and 3-for-17 from the three-point line during EYBL play last season and averaged 8.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in 18 games for Boo Williams.

These numbers are impressive — especially for a sophomore playing guys two years older than him, in many cases — but how can you compare an elite shot blocker and questionable perimeter shooter to Kevin Durant, one of the top two players in the world?

And off of a two-to-three minute video of hand-picked highlight plays?

How is fair to 16-year-old Thon Maker, a high school sophomore, to get compared to Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett or any other NBA legend like what happened this weekend?

Many of these websites use these comparisons for high school players to current NBA superstars as a way to drive up page views. What it ends up doing much of the time is placing unrealistic expectations on a young kid that is just trying to get better at basketball. People see a 16-year-old kid making highlights that an athlete like LeBron James or Kevin Durant are capable of doing, see that the writer posting the video makes a careless comparison and suddenly expectations for a 16-year-old basketball prospect are completely unrealistic to deal with.

High school basketball mixtapes are a normal byproduct of the current basketball landscape in America. Mixtape producers will often record every game of a top prospect and compile highlight reels based on months of footage and pair the highlights to catchy music to accompany it. Mixtapes are fun to watch to pass the time and the market for these highlight reels has blown up over the last few years as companies like Ball is Life, Hoopmixtape, City League Hoops and Iowa Elites — to name a small few — have all worked to corner the market on videos of the next big-name high school hoops prospect that is making jaw-dropping plays.

What you don’t see in mixtapes is kids making bad decisions or bad basketball plays. You don’t get turnovers and blown defensive assignments on a mixtape. Want to see a mixtape of a kid curling around a screen and putting himself in position for a great catch-and-shoot jumper? Good luck. Where is the mixtape footage of Thon Maker trying to assert himself physically on the interior and being manhandled inside of 10 feet as happened in multiple games last spring and summer?

This isn’t a knock on Maker, who, again, is a top-5 prospect in the sophomore class. But you have to paint a complete picture with a high school player when making a comparison model to NBA All-Stars and not just carelessly throwing names out there to bump up page views.

Highlight reels are fun to watch, but they don’t show the full and complete portrait of how a basketball player truly functions on the court. Many of these high school mixtapes get filmed at the grassroots basketball tournaments and camps that dominate the spring and summer. There’s no game-planning to stop elite-level guys and sometimes guys play on teams with other players they’ve never met before. It leads to a lot of run-and-gun basketball and some fun highlights, but it’s also some of the worst basketball you can stomach for prolonged periods of time.

The responsibility comes from media members that pick up on these mixtapes and lazily throw a NBA player’s name into the mix to generate interest and page views.

Don’t think that is harmful?

Ask Demetrius Walker what it was like to be called the next LeBron as a high school kid. He was kicked off of the Grand Canyon basketball team earlier this season.

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