By Paul M. Banks and David Kay
Being 7’3” and possessing the athleticism Hasheem Thabbet does, it’s no surprise he’s regarded one of the top prospects in the 2009 NBA Draft. In his three years at UConn, he made major strides each season. He conveyed steady growth while still leaving plenty of room for improvement.
“You can see from my freshman year to my junior year. My freshman year I was averaging 6 points, by the time I left UConn I was above 13. I just keep changing and working hard and listening to the coaches, and that’s the only way I can be successful,” Thabeet said at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.
Perhaps no player in recent memory had the same impact on the defensive end that Thabeet did. He leaves UConn just 118 blocked shots shy of the NCAA record, a record he almost certainly would have broken had he returned for his senior season. Besides averaging 4.2 blocks per game, the intimidating presence of Thabeet in the paint altered several shots a game; discouraging smaller players who wouldn’t even fathom the idea of taking at the big man. Players down low rarely have that sort of impact today.
Dikembe Mutombo is perhaps the most recent example. His mere presence forced opposing offenses to completely overhaul their game plan. At the combine media day, I asked Thabeet about being compared to the “Fear of Zaire,” a post player who’s country of origin is very close to Thabeet’s native Tanzania. “I look up to him. He had a great career, and his being not too far from my country, to be able to stay in the league and accomplish what he did is great. He’s a good player I’d like to have a great career like him,” Thabeet center.
Many NBA Mock Drafts have Thabeet going third overall, due to his impressive shot blocking abilities. He’s 7’3” and has a ridiculous 7’ 6.25” wingspan, incredible timing, and is coordinated enough to go up and swat a shot with either hand on a regular basis.
Offensively, Thabeet is still very much a work in progress. And he spoke about all the experts he’s working with to improve his offense. “Right now I’m working out with Scott Roth. He’s a shooter,” Roth played for three different NBA teams (Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves) in the 1980s after starring at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Thabeet has also found another workout partner. “I’m working out with a former Navy S.E.A.L. I was in California. Me, Darren Collision and some other guy working out, I’m going back to L.A. And it’s not in the water at all, it’s a mobility workout,” the big man said.
While his skills on the block have improved year-by-year, they are still not anywhere close to where they need to be if he wants to become a steady offensive threat. Most of Thabeet’s baskets in college came from offensive rebounds or slam dunks, and rarely did he ever have to step out and shoot a mid-range jumper. When he did spot up to shoot, his stroke wasn’t as horrendous as most would imagine. His touch is soft, and his form doesn’t need a whole lot of work. It will more be an issue of finding a rhythm and feeling comfortable enough to shoot the 12-15 footer so that he becomes less of a one dimensional talent.
Thabeet was asked if he would rather go to a team that A.) Wanted him to be a defensive specialist or B.) Wanted him to do it all, including his in-progress offensive game. “To me defense always wins the game, but wherever I end up, I just want to be able to do anything. It’s not like college where maybe they might not throw you the ball too many times. In the NBA you’re going to get your touches,” he responded before answering the critics of his offensive game.
“They’re going to see me out there and that’s the only way I have to talk, I don’t really talk off the court, I just play basketball and have fun.”
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