STYLE

Towns' family thinks the 'old soul' will be able to quickly adjust to NBA life

06/25/2015 06:32 EDT | Updated 06/25/2016 05:59 EDT
NEW YORK, N.Y. - With only hours to go before Thursday's NBA draft, the mother of Karl-Anthony Towns slid on a brand new pair of black stilettos, smoothed out her loose, fancy pantsuit in the lucky shade of Kentucky Blue and spoke confidently of her youngest child's ability to navigate what's to come in the big time.

One thing's for sure, Jacqueline Cruz-Towns said. She'll still be mom.

"I don't think it will change our relationship at all," she said. "We discuss, he still seeks my opinion. We tend to absorb and listen to him. We're very close. That won't change."

On this exciting day, when her 19-year-old was picked No. 1 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, things were moving fast before her brood dashed to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the draft.

Cruz-Towns went through about seven outfits, shopping in her hometown of Piscataway, New Jersey, before deciding on a halter-style one piece in the blue of the school where Karl made his mark. A niece helped her with makeup smudges. Her sister-in-law helped with her long, wavy hair.

"Do I look all right? Is my eyeliner smudged? I wanted to wear something blue but, you know, not too young and not too old. Something fun that would make my son and my husband (Karl-Anthony Sr.) go wow."

But Cruz-Towns also found herself reminiscing, to a time when Karl was in the fifth or sixth grade and already pushing 6 feet tall. That's when she realized just how good a basketball player he already was.

"We watched him dribbling and then I watched him make a layup, and I said to myself, 'Oh my god, he looks like a ballerina,'" she said. "It was just the grace and the flow."

To help him overcome the awkwardness of childhood most everybody endures, she bought him biographies of basketball greats that they would read together.

After Karl was picked, his father was nearly overcome by emotion, recalling on ESPN how the family spent their savings to build a concrete basketball court in the backyard.

"People don't understand what we sacrificed to do this and live this dream," he said.

Mom was beaming minutes after the draft victory, with this advice for her son: "I just say continue to work hard. Love your fans. Give them the smiles that you always give us at home."

Karl, in NBA speak, was "one and done," along with 11 other players in this year's draft class. That means he left school after freshman year. It's a slightly different experience heading into the NBA so young, but Cruz-Towns called her son "19 going on 35."

When she was studying to be a nurse, it was Karl who helped her hit the books as she juggled her two kids and her job in finance at a New Jersey behavioural health facility.

"When I'm down and out, he always comes and tells me, 'This is going to be fine. This is nothin'.' He's an old soul," she said.

An old soul who loves to joke with older sister Lachelle Towns, 35, a stay-at-home mom of two. Big sis sees her role going forward as a grounding source.

"It's me who can say, 'How to see the problem? How to come up with a solution?' My brother is 19 and just like any other 19-year-old boy would be. He's a teenager. He's loving life. This is like getting that actual job at the mall working at Wendy's," she said. "He has to wake up every day. He has to go to work, clock in, clock out. And if he's going to call out, guess what? You have to call your coach and tell him you're not coming into work."

Lachelle was there in a white dress for her brother's big night, along with the rest of the family. Many attended a breakfast for the draft families earlier Thursday, where the league laid out support programs that include financial management, selecting an agent and the importance of keeping your personal circles close and small.

And they had a chance to network with members of the NBA's parent groups.

"We walk them through budgeting, credit, power of attorney, saving. How do you enjoy yourself and have a good time but how do you stay prudent," said Greg Taylor, the NBA's senior vice-president for player development.

And what does Isiah Taylor, Karl's cousin, think will be the budding NBA superstar's biggest challenge?

"Everyone in the world feels like you're starting your journey, but really he'll have to fend for himself," said the 18-year-old, who is following in his basketball footsteps at Dickinson College this fall.

"But really he's just a nice guy," he added. "He gave me a ticket for the draft for my high school graduation."

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Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie

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