LOS ANGELES (AP) — Karl Towns Jr., a 7-footer headed to Kentucky to play basketball, and Brianna Turner, a Notre Dame recruit, were honored Tuesday night as the national prep athletes of the year.
Towns led his St. Joseph High School team to three straight state titles before graduating a year early this spring. The forward from Metuchen, New Jersey, averaged 20.9 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocked shots last season.
Towns’ mother, who is from the Dominican Republic, jumped up, yelled and pounded her son’s back when he was announced as the boys’ winner by presenters Steven Jackson of the Atlanta Falcons, 2010 winner Brandon Knight of the Milwaukee Bucks and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards.
“Wow, wow, wow,” Towns said, holding the silver trophy. “Growing up, you never really see yourself being in this position. I’ve got to thank my mom for always cooking for me. I’m a big guy and I eat a lot.”
Towns also thanked his father, who jumped up to congratulate his son, for working four jobs to provide for the family. Towns raised his glasses to wipe his eyes and his voice wavered during his acceptance speech.
He earned a 3.50 grade point average and has played for the Dominican senior national team since he was 16.
“Having a good GPA is more important than just having 20 points a night,” he said.
Towns said he eventually would like to become a doctor, having been inspired by his mother being a nurse.
Turner led Manvel (Texas) High to consecutive state titles, averaging 20.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists in just 23 minutes a game last season. The guard-forward started all 154 possible games during her prep career.
Turner accepted her trophy from presenters Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers, Omar Gonzalez of the U.S. national soccer team and retired soccer star Mia Hamm. Turner had a 3.78 GPA and was MVP of the McDonald’s High School All-America game.
“I got to get my words together,” she said onstage. “I’m just in shock.”
Making her first trip to California and staying in a hotel room facing the Hollywood sign “is awesome,” she said.
“Thanks to my parents,” Turner said. “Without them, I couldn’t have any of this success.”
Towns beat out nominees Trentavis Friday, a sprinter from Cherryville, North Carolina; defensive tackle Andrew Brown of Chesapeake, Virginia; distance runner Grant Fisher of Grand Blanc, Michigan; pitcher Justus Sheffield of Tullahoma, Tennessee; and soccer player Abu Danladi of Los Olivos, California.
Turner won out over soccer player Katie Cousins of Forest, Virginia; distance runner Alexa Efraimson of Camas, Washington; volleyball player Alexa Filley of Louisville, Kentucky; softball pitcher Taylor McQuillin of Mission Viejo, California; and shot putter Raven Saunders of Charleston, South Carolina.
The winners were chosen by a nationwide panel of sports experts who took into account individual accomplishments during the academic year, athletic, academic and character excellence, impact on their team’s success and their achievements during their prep career.
The awards are sponsored by Gatorade.