Karl-Anthony Towns' Proudest Moment Might Surprise You

The proudest moment of Towns’ career had nothing do with the NBA and absolutely nothing to do with college ball.

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Complex Original

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LOS ANGELES—From winning state championships in high school to competing against the very best in the world, Karl-Anthony Towns has accomplished more than most basketball players have been able to achieve in 21 years, let alone by their 21st birthday.

For the former University of Kentucky star and current Minnesota Timberwolves center though, it has all happened so fast. After all, in a matter of two years, the 7-footer has gone from McDonald’s All-American to SEC Freshman of the Year, then first overall pick in the NBA Draft to the unanimous NBA Rookie of the Year.

But the proudest moment of Towns’ career had nothing do with the NBA and absolutely nothing to do with college ball.

there have been more hoopsters who have taken home the trophy than any other type of athlete in the history of the award.

“Winning Gatorade Athlete of the Year,” he said Tuesday night at the 14th annual Gatorade Athlete of the Year awards.

Towns’ answer may have felt a little too convenient given the setting. He could have pointed to the fact that he made the Dominican Republic national basketball team as a 16-year-old or that he set franchise records for scoring and rebounding in his rookie season in the Association. But he didn’t back down from his response as soon as he said it, acknowledging that he didn’t feel that way just because of the present moment.

“Nothing has made me prouder,” he continued.

While baseball’s biggest and brightest stars were facing off against each other on the diamond during Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game in San Diego, some of the nation’s top high school athletes were being honored by the sports drink giant roughly 120 miles north.

The event—which included a star-studded cast of current and former pro athletes such as NFL MVP Cam Newton, World Cup champion Abby Wambach, and Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix among others—has seen its fair share of basketball players win Gatorade Male Athlete of the Year, starting with LeBron James back in 2003 and continuing with Towns two years ago. In fact, there have been more hoopsters who have taken home the trophy than any other type of athlete in the history of the award.


And that trend didn’t end Tuesday, as Jayson Tatum became the latest hoops star to win Gatorade Male Athlete of the Year. The 6’9” forward is headed to Duke next season after leading Chaminade College Prep (St. Louis, Mo.) to a state title, and he couldn’t be more excited about his decision to play for Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“You don’t tell Coach K no,” Tatum, 18, said when asked what ultimately made him choose Duke. “I took my first and only official visit to Duke, and after that, I said, ‘This is where I need to be.’

“I never thought in a million years Coach K would want me to go to Duke.”

The opportunity to play for one of college basketball’s most storied programs feels like dream come true for Tatum, who grew up watching Duke basketball games on TV. But as he reflected on his career shortly after receiving Gatorade’s most prestigious honor, no achievement stood out more than the new hardware that he held in his hands.

“I’m so thankful for this award,” he said. “They could have chosen anybody.”

Tatum, moreover, said that he was so surprised when his name was called, that it didn’t register he had actually won.

“I was like, ‘Did they just say my name?’” he confessed. “Everyone was waiting for me to get up.”

Towns, however, wasn’t surprised to see the same player who averaged 29.5 points and 9.1 rebounds as a senior and scored 40 points in this year's Class 5 state championship game earn the honor.

“He’s one great talent,” he said of Tatum, who now stands as the eighth basketball player to win the award. “Duke is very lucky to have him. He is someone…I can one day see in the NBA.”

Tatum appears on his way to a promising career even if he doesn’t want to look too far ahead into the future, knowing that he can’t afford to get ahead of himself having yet to play a game in college.

Still, if there was someone at the L.A. Hotel whom he could look up to, it was undoubtedly Towns.

“He definitely set the bar high,” Tatum said of Towns’ rise over the last two years. “(He) is a great person on and off the court. Hopefully one day I can follow in his footsteps and do some of the things he did.”

Now it’s his turn to try and top him.

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