DeJuan Blair may have gotten the better of Hasheem Thabeet in the first Pitt-UConn game this past season – the 277-pounder flipped the UConn center over his back in a memorable moment on national TV – but it was the Pitt center who must have been flipping out as team after team ignored him in the first round of the NBA Draft on June 25 – while UConn’s 7-3 shot-blocker extraordinaire from Tanzania will be laughing all the way to the bank in Memphis after being tabbed by the Grizzlies with the second pick.
Blair fell all the way to 37th before being claimed by the Spurs.
UConn’s sweet shooting All-American A. J. Price went to the Indiana Pacers with the 22nd pick in the second round, making it two UConn stars hoping to shine as rookies in Indianapolis this fall. (Running back Donald Brown was snapped up by the Colts in the NFL Draft.)
Meanwhile, Thabeet joins former Husky Rudy Gay in Memphis, swelling the ranks of UConn alum in the NBA to a league-leading 15 from any one school, assuming the return for the 2009-10 season of Ray Allen, Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone, Caron Butler, Rudy Gay, Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton, Donyell Marshall, Emeka Okafor [also a No. 2 pick; UConn has not had a No. 1], Kevin Ollie, Charlie Villanueva, Jake Voskuhl and Marcus Williams.
According to a UConn Athletics Communications spokesman, “Thabeet becomes the 10th UConn player selected in the NBA Draft Lottery portion of the First Round and is the 15th First Round selection at Connecticut under Jim Calhoun. He is the first Husky selected since the 2006 NBA Draft, when UConn had five total players taken, including four in the first round.” [Gay 8th, Armstrong 12th, Williams 22nd and Boone 23rd with Denham Brown going in the second round making Connecticut the third school to have four players selected in the first round in the same draft along with Duke (1999) and North Carolina (2005).]
That Thabeet was selected second is partially a tribute to his defensive skills, partially the result of a relatively thin group of potential draftees. But as much as it was no surprise Hasheem went so high, it was just as mystifying why Blair’s draft number tumbled fell faster than General Motors’ market share.
ESPN pundit Tony Kornheiser, an admitted fan of the Pitt wide-body, made this comment on a recent PTI show: “Blair played in the toughest physical conference in the country and he beat up on Hasheem Thabeet, who I believe went number two – I’m just surprised he didn’t go higher.”
Blair and Thabeet, who shared BIG EAST Player of the Year honors in 2008-09, could vie for “Rookie of the Year” honors in the NBA, if both can overcome their deficiencies – namely, Blair’s knees and Thabeet’s shooting – something national columnist Bill Simmons doesn’t see happening. Thabeet “is the best shot-blocker in the draft and if he ever develops any offense, he could be a dominant big (but) I’m skeptical,” he wrote.
Simmons offered his witty take on Thabeet’s new team’s low standings in the NBA echelon saying, “somebody should start a ‘Free Thabeet’ blog right now,”
And commenting on Hasheem’s even lower voice timbre: “Thabeet apparently bought Andre the Giant’s voice on eBay.”
Posted June 29, 2009