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Biggest Man on Campus

Tanzanian freshman tallest ever at UConn

Posted: Tuesday July 18, 2006 11:45AM; Updated: Tuesday July 18, 2006 2:44PM
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You can't teach size but Thabeet is still learning English and the game.
You can't teach size but Thabeet is still learning English and the game.
Photo by Stephen Slade

By Zac Boyer

Hasheem Thabeet was being teased by UConn graduate assistant Justin Evanovich in the back hallways of Gampel Pavilion.

"You seen Jeff Adrien?" Evanovich asked, referring to UConn's lumbering soon-to-be sophomore.

"Yeah?" answered the Tanzanian, to whom English is still an unfamiliar language.

"Number 4. The guy scoring all of the lay-ups on you in practice," Evanovich said.

"...So?" Thabeet tossed back, suddenly realizing the point and shrugging off the verbal jab.

Thabeet coolly grabbed his Powerade and gulped it down, relaxing after one of the first pick-up games of his UConn career. As one of the last recruits in UConn's record-setting eight-man Class of 2006, Thabeet should be able to keep it cool. His one of UConn's most prized recruits. Talk about being the big man on campus. Literally. He's 7-foot-3.

When Thabeet steps on the hardwood this fall, he'll be the tallest man ever to play for the Huskies, who will return just four players and welcome a whopping nine to this season's roster. There will be no championship expectations looming over their heads, no questions as to who will be leaving for the NBA after the season. It will just be fast-paced, in-your-face basketball featuring one of the nation's best recruiting classes.

Here at Gampel Pavilion, in the shadows of Jim Calhoun's summer basketball camp, Thabeet and the other rookies have taken center stage by storm. Thabeet originally moved to Houston from the African nation of Tanzania before signing a letter of intent in early June to play at UConn. While Storrs may play host to one of the best college basketball programs in the country, it's a far cry from the hoops Thabeet used to play in his homeland: small pick-up games that he first began watching when he was 15.

Mesmerized by the windmill dunks some of the other players were able to pull off, Thabeet stood in awe on the sidelines before he was finally asked why he, 6-8 at the time, wasn't in the mix. Coaches gave him a ball, led him to the foul line and asked if he could make the shots. After sinking the first few, Thabeet turned and looked them in the eye.

"Yeah, I can do it," he recalls telling them.

From that point on, it was plug-and-run for Thabeet. After being told he might have a shot at playing in the United States, he turned to the internet to contact coaches. Having to pay for web access in Africa, it wasn't always easy to get through. He finally reached a couple in Division III before he was put in contact with Mark McClanahan and the varsity boys' basketball coaching staff at Cypress Community Christian School in Houston. There, Thabeet would eventually make his mark.

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