SAINT FRANCIS — There was no avoiding the comparisons Friday afternoon as the Milwaukee Bucks introduced Thon Maker, their first-round selection in the 2016 NBA draft.
A relatively unknown 7-foot-1 foreigner, Maker’s selection immediately conjured up flashbacks to three years ago, when Bucks general manager John Hammond took what many thought was a major gamble and used Milwaukee’s pick — 15th overall — to select Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 7-foot teenager from Greece.
Hammond wasn’t quite ready to make a pound-for-pound comparison, but it’s safe to say he and the Bucks are hoping for similar results.
“I hate to even go there because Giannis has done some special things in his first three years this league,” Hammond said. “I don’t even want to put him in that category. There wasn’t a real body of work to evaluate Giannis from, and the same thing was kind of true of Thon.
“But he impressed us, and we had a chance to watch him for the last couple of years. He’s continued to get better, he’s continued to get stronger, and we’ve talked to our medical staff, and they feel like he definitely has the ability to add strength, add mass, and that was important to us.”
Maker’s family escaped the unrest in their native Sudan when he was six years old and settled in Australia before moving to the United States in 2011.
In 2014, he and his brother relocated to Canada where they attended the Athlete Institute of Ontario as opposed to the traditional collegiate route — a move Maker said offered the same type of structure and body development as major college programs in the U.S.
“Most people, when they go to college, you see their bodies change,” Maker said. “They hit the weight room and they have a very routine schedule. When I got to Canada, we did the same type of measurements and setups, just like in college.”
At 19 years old, Maker will still need to spend a lot of time in the weight room and get acclimated to the rigors and nuances of the NBA game. Milwaukee, still in a rebuilding mode despite the presence of young starts such as Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker, will offer an opportunity for Maker to grow.
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“We’re very lucky to have him,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We talk about defense first, second and third. We have to get better at it and he can help us in that department.”
Antetokounmpo, who is playing for the Greek National Team in Olympic qualifying games, was one of the first people from the organization to reach out to Maker after his selection.
Maker is hoping to follow his new teammate’s example.
“He sent me a text last night to congratulate me,” Maker said. “I look forward to meeting him and I definitely want to pick his brain a lot about everything that goes on, every thing he went through and how he got to where he is now. It’s so special ... you don’t even think about it, how the whole situation happened. You think back and see where he is now and you feel like it was meant to be.”
In choosing Maker, the Bucks passed on a player with similar size and skills in Marquette’s Henry Ellenson, a Rice Lake product. Maker’s upside was too much for Milwaukee to ignore.
“We think Henry can be a very good player,” Hammond said. “We just felt like Thon was the player for us at 10.”
The Bucks also introduced their second-round pick, 6-foot-5, 215-pound shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon out of Virginia, where he played under former University of Wisconsin assistant Tony Bennett.
“He’s taught me so much, on and off the court,” Brogdon said. “But I think the biggest thing he’s taught me is mental toughness. You’re going to go through ups and downs but staying steady, being able to bounce back and be resilient is most important.
“On the court, he taught me the most important thing is to make good decisions on offense and keep playing defense because defense will keep you in games when your shots aren’t falling. That’s what I pride myself on; being a defender and making good decisions.”