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2018 NBA All-Star Game

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns and his parents soak in being a first-time All-Star

Jacqueline Cruz: ‘We did what we had to do to make his dreams complete’

Six of the seven 2018 NBA Western Conference All-Star reserves had been named, and none of those names was Karl-Anthony Towns. Overcome with nervousness for the Minnesota Timberwolves forward, father Karl Anthony Towns Sr. put his right hand on his forehead while mother Jacqueline Cruz said, “There is one person left.”

Finally, the name “Karl-Anthony Towns” appeared on their television and the parents of the first-time All-Star, along with his girlfriend, Kawahine Andrade, vaulted from the couch screaming in celebration.

“Yes, my baby!” Cruz yelled with a deep laugh.

Watching Towns grow from the high school varsity to an NBA All-Star has been a fantastic journey for his parents.

Towns first showed signs of being special when he was good enough to practice with the Piscataway (New Jersey) Technical High School junior varsity team as a fifth-grader. He led St. Joseph’s (New Jersey) High School to state championships as a freshman, sophomore and junior. In December 2012, Towns reclassified as a senior and committed to play on the Kentucky men’s basketball team beginning in the 2014-15 season. ESPN.com’s third-ranked prep prospect in the Class of 2014 also had a 3.96 grade-point average.

“I remember the days going from baseball to basketball,” Cruz said. “ ‘Hey, change in the car.’ We did what we had to do to make his dreams complete. … It is so important for parents to actually help, because without the help of the parents, the child will never get his dreams fulfilled.”

After a strong season at Kentucky, Towns was selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. The 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year spent his All-Star weekends playing in the Rising Stars Challenge during his first two NBA seasons despite showing the talent to be in the main All-Star Game. Towns also had the statistics to be an All-Star this time around, averaging 20.4 points and 12.1 rebounds. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder believes the Timberwolves’ winning ways — they will likely be a playoff team for the first time since 2004 — got him over the hump along with teammate Jimmy Butler.

An emotional Towns learned he was an All-Star from his parents and his girlfriend.

“I saw my family outside the door, my girlfriend,” Towns said. “We were coming out of film. I saw them. They got up. My girlfriend was smiling really hard, so I knew something had happened. I was excited. I was speechless.

“I am very humbled and blessed to have this opportunity to not only play but also represent my teammates who are real All-Stars. It also gives my family a chance to get an amazing experience.”

Towns’ father is African-American, and his mother is from the Dominican Republic. Towns joined the Dominican national team at age 16. On July 12, 2012, he was a member of a Dominican team that played in an exhibition game in Las Vegas against a U.S. team featuring Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. A young Towns was able to guard USA’s Anthony Davis at the end of the game and met Bryant afterward.

Boston Celtics center Al Horford, a native of the Dominican Republic, recalls playing with a young Towns and the support Towns’ parents gave him.

“His mom and dad have been supporting him ever since I met him when he was 14, 15 years old,” Horford said. “His dad was telling me, ‘He is going to be playing against you. He is going to be up there in the league. He is going to be great.’ His dad is a huge supporter; his mom is too. And that’s the way that he’s been. A lot of family support around him.”

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game marks the first time there will be two players with ties to the Dominican Republic. Horford, who was born in Puerto Plata, will be making his fifth All-Star Game appearance. The Dominican Republic is best known for its baseball players, but Towns and Horford could change the interest of some of the youths with their All-Star status.

“Basketball always has a big interest,” Horford said. “There is a lot of basketball being played. But this gives kids, honestly, down there more hope to be like, ‘Man, these guys can make it to the highest level and make it to an All-Star Game.’

“The interest is already there. People are already following it. When they found out that both of us were selected, the people went crazy. Family members of mine were sending me videos and news clippings. It’s a big deal. But I just think it gives people more hope and makes them proud.”

Towns expressed appreciation for Horford, former NBA player Charlie Villanueva and other Dominican basketball stars who paved the way for him.

“It’s an amazing, amazing time to see two Dominicans strive to play basketball at the highest level,” Towns said. “Al is one of the pioneers who showed how you can really make it if you push your talent and put your mind to something. I’m just trying to follow the leader.”

Towns said it probably won’t hit him that he is finally in the All-Star Game until he hears his name during introductions on Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Don’t be surprised if he gets emotional after realizing a dream of playing in a game that he watched as a child.

“I’ve been involved in Friday and Saturday, but I didn’t know how Sunday feels,” Towns said. “I’ve always left by that time. I’m already humbled. It’s going to be an emotional moment when I say, ‘Hey, I got to get ready for Sunday instead of just Friday and Saturday.’

“I watched it all the time as a kid. That is the best time of the NBA year.”

Towns Sr. said there is no place in the world he and his wife would rather be than watching their son in the NBA All-Star Game.

“That is something you dream about,” Towns Sr. said. “All the years of practice. All the games. It was not every day that the people in the league give you the respect in what I consider a very tough division to get in. If you’re in the West, to make the All-Star team is a big achievement, with all the talent they have out there.

“I would tell other parents, and this is coming from the heart, just enjoy your kids’ journey no matter where it goes. Everyone’s journey is so different in life. Just support your kids from top to bottom.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.