Maker Mob: Matur and Makur's Australian Homecoming

The Maker cousins have returned home, with their eyes on winning an NBL championship with the Sydney Kings.

Makur Maker estimates that he hasn’t been back in Australia since 2014.

That works out to around seven years without seeing his West Australian-based parents and siblings, with the exception of a visit from his dad in 2018. It’s but one of the many sacrifices Makur has made in pursuing his basketball dreams abroad, but he hasn’t done it without some family still by his side. For those in the bloodline pursuing their hoop dreams, the Makers’ basketball journey has been a shared one, with the #MakerMob (including cousins Matur and Thon, and now emerging family members Mathiang and Maper), making a collective name for themselves over in North America.

That doesn’t mean he’s not happy to be back home.

“Just the fact that I’m back in Australia, seeing my mum, my dad, my siblings, having a chance to see them. Hopefully they can come and watch the games, but just having some home cooked meals when they come visit, and going to the beach and stuff like that, is the stuff that you miss,” Makur said in a conversation alongside cousin Matur with The Pick and Roll earlier this month.

Makur’s homecoming comes by way of the Sydney Kings, who signed the 6’11 big to a Next Star deal this off-season. Though New South Wales is not quite the same as being back in Western Australia where he grew up, there is one familiar piece to the equation - he’ll be playing alongside cousin Matur once again.

“MK (Makur) is a little brother to me, and that little brother has grown up.” Matur said. “We played together at the high school level, now getting the chance to play in the pros is something special.”

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Makur agrees, acknowledging how unique the opportunity is to play with family at the professional level.

“The Sydney signing was definitely something big. Coming back home, me and Matur grew up together and played basketball together competing. Coming in to an environment like this and playing in the same team is something you could only dream of.”

If the similar names feel confusing, it’s an understandable mix up, particularly for Australian fans given the seemingly endless number of prodigious Maker ballers who have been on the periphery whilst overseas. That said, MK (Makur) and Tu (Matur) are keen to distinguish themselves as they make a name for themselves in the NBL.

Makur - The Next Star

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Makur, 20, joins the NBL with hopes to transfer his play into an NBA draft selection. In high school, Makur was a five star recruit, considered the 16th highest ranked high school recruit and #2 center by ESPN, above players such as 2021 draftees Jaden Springer, Sharife Cooper, Moses Moody and more.

Entering college, Makur made the highly publicised decision to attend Howard, a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), over high major offers including Kentucky, UCLA and Memphis, becoming the highest ranked recruit to join such a school in the last decade. It was praised as a bold and pioneering decision during a turbulent time of American race relations in 2019, that could open the floodgates for future elite athletes to follow suit.

“Signing with an elite academic HCBU like Howard was definitely life changing,” he shared. “I felt it from the jump, ever since I did that commitment, the network that I’ve built and I’m currently building, surprised me the most. I will be a Howard graduate one day because I want to be part of that alumni base, for sure, but as for the impact on HCBUs, it brought a lot of light to the accomplishments beyond sports for African Americans. I wasn’t born in the US, but from the outside looking in, everything that’s going on with the race and stuff like that at the time that I committed.”

On the court, Howard appeared to be a prime destination for Makur to put up big numbers and establish himself as a draftable talent. Unfortunately, due to a series of events beyond his control, the opportunity to do just that was limited to only two games.

“I was playing with a groin strain, then I was getting ready to play my third game and the coaching staff shut me down for that, out of looking out for me being healthy. I got healthy, I was getting ready to play my next games, and then COVID-19 happened, and we were pending games whether they were going to be played or not, but we still practiced all day, throughout the week, and after that our season got cancelled.

“I was so excited for the season, but there’s only so much you can control, and I learned that from coach Smith. Just control what you can control, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next, so I was getting ready to compete and advance in the NCAA tournament, but we didn’t get a chance to.”

Despite such a limited chance to make an imprint at the college level, Makur still declared for the 2021 NBA draft, hoping for a strong combine and the chance that some residual stock from his high school days would remain. Ultimately, the decision was made to withdraw, with the goal to spend the next year proving himself to evaluators.

Undoubtedly a frustrating run of events, Makur maintains a level of assuredness, and a mature dose of perspective, that keeps him motivated and moving forward.

“All that’s happened, I can’t really harp on it too much, because with COVID-19 with everything going on right now, we’re blessed to still get to go to work and play basketball. The pressure’s on the people who don’t have a chance and are not working right now, tiptoeing and waiting for COVID-19 to be over. When people have lost loved ones and lost homes and stuff like that, they’re the one’s going through it the most. As a competitor, I trust my work and I trust what I do, I don’t really let it frustrate me like that, because I know what I’m capable of. The pressures and stuff like that around today, I’m just blessed to go out and play basketball every day, and work.”

Matur

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Out of all the Makers, Thon included, 23 year old ‘Tu’ may have the most diverse range of professional experience out of the lot.

“I think this will be my third pro year, technically,” Matur said. Like his brother Thon, Matur chose to forego college basketball, eventually finding himself playing basketball in Union Neuchâte of the Swiss Basketball League.

After four games in Switzerland, he would quickly move on to Zlatorog Laško in Slovenia later that year, where he averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds per game over 17 appearances.

“Europe was really nice. I got a chance to work with my guy [Zlatorog Laško head coach] Chris Thomas out there, who was actually a coach in the NBA for about three years. He was with Utah [Jazz], with the [Golden State] Warriors as well, and he was also with Chicago [Bulls], so it was really kind of good to pick his brain, learnt a lot of different things from him. Just putting me in different spots on the floor, and kind of reading the game and things like that, so in terms of basketball that helped me for sure.”

Returning to the US, Matur spent the 2019-20 season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he would play alongside fellow Aussie William McDowell-White.

“Shoutout Will McDowell-White, that’s my guy. Going through that experience, learning a lot from that season, even though it was cut short because of COVID-19 it was a great season, because I got a chance to learn a lot of the systems from the NBA and the Rockets. It was amazing, and I learnt a lot from the coaches with a lot of the individual work that we did.

“The G League is not for everybody. You gotta be strong-minded. Last year with the year I was there we had to fight through a lot, whether that was being on a flight at 6am, just going through that grind of a young NBA team, so it was definitely tough, we brought it through. Me and my guy Will, we made it work. We had a lot of fun, the coaches, the whole organisation was world class, it was real nice.”

Matur’s minutes were limited, but in his 13.2 minutes per game of action he was productive, recording per 36 production of 15.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals on 56% from the field. “I didn’t get to play much, but I brought it every day, and whenever I got my chance I was on top of it, so I learnt a lot for sure.”

Instead of playing the 2020-2021 season, Matur opted to spend the year training alongside his older brother Thon (and later on Makur) with Pro’s Vision, a training company established by former NBA guard Darren Collison.

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“They did a great job all those guys, working with me and MK as well, just the little things perfecting our games. For me, the biggest thing was just slowing down the game. You know Darren Collison, ten year vet, getting after it and getting a chance to play with him as well, whether it was 2 on 2, 3 on 3, and then him just giving his look at how I play my game. Obviously I play stretch 5 or whatever it may be, so it helped just hearing the little things he sees from my game. We watched a lot of film.

“I also did a lot of the stretching and mobility work, which definitely helped with my defence and being able to move, just staying low, and just being mobile, so it was a great year for sure.”

To cap off his time before returning to home to Australia, Matur played for the Denver Nuggets squad this Summer League, again making the most of limited opportunity, scoring nine points in only eight minutes without missing a shot in his only notable on court time over the course of the event.

Sydney Kings

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Prior to departing for Sydney’s shores, the pair spent time scrimmaging in California under Jordan Lawley, in the same building that housed the Australian Boomers ahead of their Olympic campaign earlier this year.

“I actually got the chance to go against Tobias Harris, and Matisse [Thybulle] who’s from Australia as well. Just getting the chance to work and grind, everybody just getting after it, it was really good, and just seeing Matisse. A couple of games we were on the same team and defensively we were just getting after it, it was great to see that from him. I kinda like bring that same thing as well defensively, so I was like ‘man, I’m excited for Australian basketball.’ MK was playing as well so it was just really nice. He just came back from winning the bronze, so it was exciting to see, for sure. He’s everywhere on the court.”

“It was definitely exciting,” Makur concurred. “We were playing pickup with some of the Aussies, Matisse and me, Matur and Dyson [Daniels]. Just all being in the same gym playing just brings goosebumps, because it makes you think what if, if we got everybody together, we could go win a gold medal, with the work and practices and everybody being on the same page, but along the line I always think about playing for them.

“It’s only a matter of time.”

In 2019, Makur actually had the chance to wear the green and gold at the Under 19 FIBA World Cup, but like fellow US-based talent Josh Green, was ultimately unable to play due to his overseas commitments. “At the time I was at Pacific Academy. I wanted to play so bad because I always fantasised about putting on the green and gold, but I kind of forget, because I already had commitments I had already made playing basketball in the US, that’s when the exams in the US hit the most, around summertime, and I had all of that lined up, so I couldn’t really leave my commitments and just go out and play, but now my main focus is basketball, so I can just manoeuvre things around.”

With neither Makur nor Matur experiencing much game action this past season, both come in to the year with a renewed exuberance to get out on court and play. “I’m excited, because we were just playing the last couple of months or whatever it may be, and we’re in a good spot, physically and things like that, so this year’s definitely going to be exciting. We’re both excited to just get out there and just play,” Matur said.

The duo are similarly keen to get back out in the community they’ve been away from for so long.

“I’m definitely looking forward to working with the South Sudanese kids or whoever they may be, just inspiring the youth, because they got next,” Matur said.

“I’m excited to get back and see the family, first things first, then being out in the community once things start to open up. Just to show them that hard work can take you anywhere, so long as you go out and keep working no matter what it is or what the situation may be, you can get anywhere you want, I’m excited for that.”

Discussing their goals for the season, the feeling is mutual - to bring a championship to the Sydney Kings.

“Having an impact is the biggest thing, and just being me no matter where I go.

“Whatever the coach may want, or what the team needs from me, I’m going to go out and do it. I’m a lockdown defender, that’s how I started playing basketball, offensively I can play anywhere, whether that be as a spot up shooter, whether you want me to handle the ball, it doesn’t matter.”

How much of a hand they manage to have on that goal remains to be seen. The Sydney Kings are uniquely stacked in the front court, with such talents as Xavier Cooks, Jarrell Martin and Jordan Hunter. For the younger Makur in particular, the reality that they will have to fight for their minutes is not lost.

“I think coming in to the league as a rookie in a pro league in the NBL, I have a lot to learn. But I look at the opportunity Josh Giddey got, and LaMelo [Ball] the year before.. I expect that same opportunity, but I’ll have to prove myself, helps us win and grow as a player.

“Coach Buford definitely plays a style of play that’s up and down in transition, and you know my game, I love to play in transition, grab and go, versatile, hit shots, go downhill, all of that, so it’s definitely the perfect coach and I’m ready to go out there and compete. Just looking at the roster out there, we’re definitely stacked, so the odds are in our favour right now to get the chip.”

Helping him reach his potential will be two of Australia’s most successful ever bigs, with special advisor Luc Longley and co-owner Andrew Bogut involved with the club.

“Bogut and Longley are NBA champions, high IQ bigs,” Makur said. “I think the biggest thing I want to learn from them is reading the game defensively, and offensively also, just the timing of things, just learning from their perspective, defending the actions they’ve had to face and different types of plays they’ve had to face, because they’ve played for a long time, so I think just learning from them and picking their brains every day in practice, games or basic conversations, that’s what’s going to help me the most and elevate my game.”

As for individual goals, Makur remains coy.

“Right now I’m just focused on the competition in the NBL. It’s a tough league, and just mentally and physically getting prepared for the season, and winning as many games as possible, that’s my main focus. Along the line, closer to draft time, that’s when you can come back and speak to me, because I don’t like prioritising. My individual goals are something I keep to myself.”

With Matur and Makur keen to reach the NBA’s ranks, contributing to a championship with the Sydney Kings should bring them a step closer to their own individual aspirations.

For now though, they’re just happy to be home.