By the time Karl-Anthony Towns turns 20 in November, he'll already be a couple weeks into his first NBA season. The 6′11″ forward, who shined at the University of Kentucky last year as the Wildcats came within one win of reaching the national championship game, looks as if he could be the No. 1 pick on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Towns had one of the best games of his career, scoring 25 points in 25 minutes as Kentucky defeated Notre Dame to advance to the Final Four, and made a believer out of most scouts. He also is likely to be an entertaining pro off the floor, as his photo-bombing antics last year proved after a win against LSU.
But before he starts his pro career, Men's Journal spoke with him from Los Angeles, where he was helping Activision reveal the third installment of the Call of Duty: Black Ops series at the annual E3 convention.
I've spoken with other pro athletes who tell me one of the best things about attending college is the critical mass of fellow video game players. Now you'll be leaving that atmosphere to go to the NBA. Is that something you'll miss?
I was blessed to have that one year playing a lot of video games in college with my teammates and my brothers. So I feel blessed to have one year. Not many people get a year to play the amount of video games we played. The greatest thing is, now, online gaming is so big you can play with your friends anywhere in the world.
Is an affinity for video games something that can help players new to a team get to know each other better?
Video games are huge, everyone loves playing them. Games are a great way to bond and quickly gel. It was one of the things that was useful for us at Kentucky. We played a lot of Nintendo 64 together. It was one of those things that brought us really close.
Let's talk about basketball a bit. Everyone wants to know how your Kentucky team would have done if it played in the NBA last year. You might have five or six teammates drafted next week. Would you guys have made the playoffs?
We were full of confidence. We all feel we could have done well. We just had full confidence in our abilities and each other. Of course my answer’s going to be that we would have done well. As far as playoffs, I can’t tell you that one. I couldn’t even tell you, I don’t know.
Do you regret that your team came up short on its quest to go undefeated? Was that something that made you think about staying in school?
In my life I've been blessed to have left every level as a winner. Leaving Kentucky was hard for me. Everyone on the coaching staff knows that. I didn’t want to leave Kentucky with a loss like that (the national semifinal loss to Wisconsin). I regret it every day that I wasn’t able to leave Kentucky with a record they rightfully deserved and a ninth championship. But with the coaching staff and Coach Calipari, they'll be bringing it home soon.
How close were you to deciding to come back for another season?
I was close. Many people don't believe it but I was close. Losing takes a lot of a toll on me. Losing like that was drastic. It was hard for me to leave. It was really 50-50. I was really on the fence about going or not going. [Going pro], you know, it's the best decision at this time, to take the next step.
How much better could your personal numbers have been last year if you had gone to a school where you would have played full-time, instead of in a platoon system?
I don't even think like that. I go by what I was able to do, and that was playing at Kentucky and getting the minutes I was given. I don’t look back on that at all. I don’t like to look back on what could have been. We could have been 40–0. I could have had 35 minutes a game. But I just look at what was. What was is we lost in the Final Four. What was is I played 20–21 minutes a game. I look at life like that.
What's one good story about John Calipari that he wouldn’t want you telling us?
He's a really bad shooter while showing us something in practice. We counted, and he only made one shot the whole year. That counts lay-ups and everything. He only made one. His shooting percentage is very low. It was one or two out of 80.
What's one class you wish you could have taken at Kentucky but couldn’t fit into your schedule because of basketball?
I would have loved to start taking a nice business class. A seminar class. But in college our schedules are so time-consuming it was very hard to take it, especially at the times when classes were being held. There are a lot of classes I wish I could have taken. Not everything works out in your favor.
I know you had good grades in high school. Do you think you'll be able to finish your degree eventually?
Definitely. I've taken a lot of classes I loved. I can’t wait to get my degree sooner than later.
Your mother is Dominican. What's the aspect of your personality that comes from her side of the family?
How social and loud I am. There's also a family-oriented side of me. That comes from my mom, how close everyone is in my family. That's the main thing. My mom's family is so together, that’s how Dominican culture is – family first.
What's your go-to strength move you would encourage a weekend warrior to consider adding to his routine?
The biggest thing for me is injury prevention. I always work on making sure that my legs are flexible, stabilized. I like doing single-leg balance work on a BOSU ball. Trainers throwing a medicine ball at me and reacting to the medicine ball. Catching it and throwing it back while keeping my balance. Doing that using each leg — it decreases the risk of having an injury.
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