When Karl Towns Jr. enters a room, he often gets that look, that he must be somebody stare. It comes with the territory when you're 6-foot-11 with a gregarious personality and a mile-wide smile, but Towns still finds it hard to believe that he, a 16-year-old, can garner so much attention.
Super Bowl champ Victor Cruz asked to meet Towns earlier this year when the Giants' wide receiver spotted him in the stands at a Rutgers basketball game. Towns has also rubbed shoulders with the likes of Kevin Durant and Magic Johnson.
But Towns is much more than a charismatic guy with a pair of size 20 shoes. For one, the rising sophomore helped his St. Joseph (Metuchen, N.J.) team to a state title this winter before taking the No. 1 spot in the recently released ESPN 25. Even more impressively, Towns' clout reached international status in May when he was named to the Dominican Republic National Team that will attempt to qualify for the London Olympics in July.
"To be selected to the Olympic team is one of the greatest feelings I've had in a while," said Towns, who is eligible for the squad because his mother, Jacqueline, is Dominican. "It shows that all the work I've put in is coming out to be a great success and it will motivate me more to practice and play even harder. I feel like a kid in the candy store."
And really, Towns is just that -- a giddy teenager in awe of the wealth of talent that will surround him. Also on the team are NBA players Al Horford, Charlie Villanueva and Francisco Garcia, guys Towns has grown up watching on TV.
"Al Horford sent me a message on Twitter saying he can't wait to play with me, and now he's following me (on Twitter)," Towns said. "I was real happy to hear from him because as a Dominican, I've always looked up to him."
Now Horford will be Towns' teammate when the Dominican Republic plays in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament from July 2-8 in Venezuela, where three teams out of the 12-team field will qualify for the London Games. With proven NBA talent on its squad -- plus Kentucky's John Calipari installed as head coach -- the Dominican Republic basketball program has a shot at qualifying for its first Olympic Games.
"It's still pretty surreal to me," Towns said. "I'm trying not to think like a 16-year-old, because I'm going to be playing with pros and can't be soft. I have to carry myself like one of them, like a 24-year-old that has confidence."
The door to this opportunity was opened last summer, when Towns played with the Dominican Republic's U-17 team. The experience not only led to a tryout with the U-19 team in May, but also introduced Towns to the rich heritage of his mother's homeland.
"Last year when he visited the Dominican Republic for the first time and saw how kind the people in the country are, he knew he wanted to represent them, which means a lot to me," Jacqueline said.
Obviously, the feeling was mutual. Three weeks after his U-19 tryout in New York, Towns was named to the full national team. And while he did plenty to impress the evaluators with his inside-outside ability, it should be noted that Coach Cal was already plenty familiar with Towns.
Calipari, who's in his second year coaching the Dominican Republic, is one of about 30 college coaches already expressing interest in Towns. And while some would say Calipari is simply trying to get a leg up in the recruiting race, Towns' dad disagrees.
"Coach Cal is great, but I always tell people he still has to bank on a kid and his ability because an Olympic spot is on the line and that's no small thing," said Karl Sr., who is the coach at Piscataway (N.J.) Vo-Tech. "There are many players he could have chosen, but Karl has a mindset and skill set that they haven't seen in a long time."
In many ways, Towns is a perfect fit for the international style of play. He has sound dribbling skills for a big man and strong post-up ability. Plus, he has such good range from outside that he drained a team-high 70 3-pointers for the Falcons last season.
"Karl has a quick release and the kid is 6-11, so it's not like he needs a quick release," St. Joseph (Met.) coach Dave Turco said. "But because of that, he's going to get his shot off against anybody. People thought I was crazy for having him on the perimeter and not the block, but it opened the floor for his teammates and when teams sagged off him, Karl was going to knock down the shot."
Towns did just that during a tight regional championship game against Paul VI (Haddonfield, N.J.) in March. With his team down four and less than four minutes remaining, Towns drained a 3-pointer while being fouled. The resulting four-point play sparked the Falcons to a 15-0 run, their 25th straight win and, after beating Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J.) in the next round, the state title Towns had promised Turco the day he enrolled at St. Joseph.
"I told Coach Turco when I came in that we were winning the state title," said Towns, who averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks as a freshman. "At the time, he was kind of like, 'Yeah, yeah.' But after we won it, I reminded him what I had said and he laughed. It was an amazing feeling to win."
"Yeah, and then I told him that now I'm not looking for one; I'm looking for four state titles now," Turco added with a laugh. "St. Joe's has had some great players, like Andrew Bynum and Jason Williams, but none of them were able to deliver what Karl and his teammates did."
If Towns can collect another piece of hardware with the Dominican Republic at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament -- be it gold, silver or bronze -- he'll be on his way to London for the Olympics.
An Olympian before his sophomore year of high school? Towns better get used to being recognized.