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Arizona State basketball recruiting target Thon Maker declares for 2016 NBA Draft

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Bobby Hurley’s biggest battle in taking over the Arizona State program came in upgrading the talent. From the first few weeks on the job, 5-star big man Thon Maker’s interest in the Sun Devils was reason No. 1 to believe Hurley was wasting no time making himself known along the recruiting frontlines.

Maker’s decision this weekend to apply for the 2016 NBA Draft and challenge the system that doesn’t allow players to make the jump out of high school is the most front-facing blow to Hurley in landing top-tier talent.

Ranked 10th in composite national recruiting rankings, the 7-foot, 205-pound Maker declared for the draft as the NBA determines whether him being 19 years old and in his fifth high school season will allow him to enter the draft.

Had Maker decided to head the college route, there was a legitimate chance Arizona State was in the lead to land him.

Not only was Maker projected by 73 percent of recruiting experts to choose Arizona State, according to his 247 Sports Crystal Ball, but Maker told DraftExpress in an interview after his declaration that the Sun Devils were atop his list.

I was really looking forward to my visit to Arizona State and Notre Dame. My guy (ASU assistant) Brian Merrit is at ASU and I was leaning that way. I loved Coach Hurley’s fire. When he got that tech early in the season, I was like ‘I want to play for this guy.’

The twist to those comments came in the news from ESPN’s Jeff Goodman on Monday morning that Merritt did not have his contract renewed.

Merritt, who joined Hurley staff after serving for John Lucas Enterprises, was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Scottsdale this offseason.

Maker, who attends Orangeville Prep in Canada, became a prolific subject on highlight reel mixtapes which painted him as the next LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but despite those over-hyped comparisons, he is a legitimate top recruit as an energetic, face-up big.

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Now, it’s a matter of getting clearance from the NBA to become a draftee and for Maker to provide enough evidence that he’s worthy of being selected.

Meanwhile, Arizona State can hope the league declines Maker entry into the draft, but losing Merritt obviously doesn’t help if that happens. Furthermore, Kansas was making a run at recruiting Maker hard and the big man had other visits scheduled to Notre Dame, St. John’s and Indiana.

Maker told DraftExpress he will not test the waters — if the NBA allows him to enter the draft, he’s “all in.”

This all isn’t to say Hurley and the Sun Devils won’t be fine without Maker. But he sure would have helped Arizona State’s momentum.

ASU’s 2016 recruiting class already has commitments from 4-star forward Sam Cunliffe, 4-star center Jethro Tshisumpa and 3-star forward Vitaliy Shibel.

In related matters, it’s unclear if there will be any domino affect from ASU deciding to part ways with Merritt, a key recruiter with a background in the high school hoops scene.

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