Towns joins list of unique UK freshmen


Center Karl-Anthony Towns of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots during the game against the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena on Saturday, March 7, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky leads Florida 30-27 at the half. Photo by Michael Reaves

By Kevin Erpenbeck

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UK basketball has had its share of unique and highly talented freshmen on its roster in recent years, from John Wall and his self-named dance move, Anthony Davis and his recognizable brow, and to Nerlens Noel and his flat top.

Add Karl-Anthony Towns and his imaginary friend “Karlito” to that list.

The 6-foot-11 forward has been stellar for Cats this season, especially of late, averaging 12.8 points and 7.6 rebounds in his last 11 games. Towns also leads the team in blocks with 74, including the six he had against Florida in the Cats regular season finale. Towns was named the SEC Freshman of the Year on Tuesday, making him UK’s sixth-straight freshman to earn the honor, joining Wall, Terrence Jones, Davis, Noel and Julius Randle.

But when Towns was receiving the brunt of head coach John Calipari’s criticism for not being focused and feeling down on himself, the post player turned to the little fictitious guy sitting on his shoulder, cleverly named Karlito (a reference to Towns’ Dominican Republic heritage), for advice.

“I don’t know if it’s self-talk, inner dialogue. I don’t know,” Towns admitted. “But I know one thing. I (will) be talking to myself. I’ll be having some good conversations with myself.”

Calipari started to notice the first couple of times Towns appeared to be talking to himself last month and finally asked him, “Who are you talking to?” Calipari was then filled in to the identity of Towns’ soundboard by an assistant coach.

Coach Barry “Slice” Rohrssen later took credit for coming up with the name Karlito, adding that Towns’ imaginary friend perfectly sums up who the bigman is.

“He has a wonderful personality, very outgoing and always wants to learn,” Rohrssen said. “If they were all like Karl Towns, more people would want to get into coaching.”

Calipari has often described Towns as a “young kid that doesn’t know any better,” and even compared him to his high school-aged son, Brad Calipari, for having the same maturity level. But the 19 year old Towns has played “grown-man” basketball in his first collegiate year, dominating opponents in the low post and earning season accolades in the process.

It’s an accomplishment that Towns (and presumably Karlito) is very proud of.

“For me it has been a process of getting used to a different level of the game. I’m happy that I have been able to come accustomed to it so far,” Towns said. “These awards are very prestigious, and I’m blessed to have a chance.”