If he finally makes it to the NBA, he will become the first Tanzanian national to ever play in that league. Standing at 7″3 and weighing 272lbs, Hasheem Thabeet is the tallest player ever to play for the Huskies. He is currently on his third year at the University of Connecticut studying Psychology. He is highly projected to be among the top five overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft! By all means, he is currently our Tanzania mostly recognizable athlete in North America if not in the world.
We recently caught up with him for a lengthy and detailed interview on his humble beginnings all the way to where he is right now as well as where he is going or wants to go. Hasheem had a lot to say. Does he believe that he will finally make his dreams to play in the NBA come true? Is he into the game for money or for the passion of the game? Who does he turn to when he needs advice? Who does he compare himself to among the big names in the NBA? Here is the full interview;
BC: For the benefit of our readers who have not yet heard or read about your life history, can you briefly tell us where were you born, which schools did you attend in Tanzania, how many brothers and sisters do you have etc?
HT: First of all thank you very much for inviting me for this interview. My Name Is Hasheem Thabeet.I was born on February 16, 1987. I was raised in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania. I have a 22 years old sister called Sham and a 17 years old brother called Akbar. As for school, I first went to Mlimani Primary School and then Makongo High School (both in Dar-es-salaam Tanzania) before transferring to Laser Hill Academy in Kenya.
BC: What happened after Laser Hill Academy? Did you thereafter move to the US right away or?
HT: Yeah, by the time I joined Laser Hill Academy, I had already started playing basketball. Therefore I played at Laser Hill for a bit and got real good. That’s where I can say I was discovered by these people (they were on vacation) and they told me that they could link me to some schools in the US. That is how I eventually left for the US. Thanks to them.
BC: What do you remember mostly about your childhood? Did you ever dream of being where you are today?
HT: Man, about my childhood, the first thing that I certainly remember is that, I was always the tallest one around/among the kids that were my age-mates. I then remember almost all my childhood friends with whom we used to play using self-made toys, friends I went to school with and just the normal childhood of an African kid. I am happy to say that most of them are actually doing very good right now out there from the way I saw them this past summer when I visited Tanzania. That is pretty cool.
On the other hand, just like most kids I’d guess, I had dreams of making it big, making an impact of some sort. However, none of those dreams were even coming closer to what I am today or what I have achieved so far. If anything, I would say it’s just working hard and have lots of discipline plus blessings from above.
Hasheem with his younger brother,Akbar
BC: Your story on how you got into basketball makes it sound like you got into basketball by accident and not by passion or love to the game. What do you say about that?
HT: Well you could be right. But from what I know, no one starts to play any kind of sport and grab the passion of the game right away since day one. It takes time. That is probably just how I started. I used to like the game and would then just go and watch others play. I remember being scared that if I ask them if I could join and play, I would probably make lots of mistakes and they are never going to let me play again! So it kinda took me a long time to understand that one can learn through mistakes. So when I eventually started playing I developed love and passion to the game. That is where I am today and therefore I wouldn’t call my involvement with basketball today an “accident” but rather a normal process of sportsmanship.
BC: Apart from basketball, did you play other sports like soccer which is still the most popular sport in Tanzania and Africa in general? Are you still a soccer fan? Which teams do you like most?
HT: Yes, I used to play soccer. I still play soccer even now. I actually do a lot of conditioning and foot work thru soccer especially during summer workouts. Soccer is a game that I have played since my childhood and I still like it although basketball is now my number one sport because I am not only enjoying it but also the fact that I now understands it more, makes me love the game even more. It’s about passion and desire to even do better that takes care of the rest.
BC: Which soccer teams, internationally and those back home, do you support?
HT: Ahahaha…for some weird reasons, I never liked the teams when I was in Tanzania. Instead, I used to watch multiples teams but never seriously had a team that I could say “this is my team” in a real sense of being a dedicated fan. However, I have enjoyed watching teams like Barcelona, Manchester United and Brazil.
BC: Come on Hasheem, we all know that in Tanzania you are either Yanga or Simba and this is even if you don’t follow soccer trends that much. So which one are you?
HT: See, this Yanga and Simba thing actually makes me dislike soccer in Tanzania. In my opinion Yanga and Simba phenomena is what hinders real soccer development in Tanzania because you know what; every year its either Yanga or Simba that wins the championship. Therefore, there are no new excitements and almost no competition. If any, it’s between Yanga and Simba. I believe that if there could be a room for other teams to develop and seriously challenge Yanga and Simba, may be soccer standard in Tanzania could pick up a little bit and we could win some international championships like the rest of African nations.
BC: When we were trying to do some research about you for this interview, different media outlets had different figures and number about your size. How tall and big are you now, exactly?
HT: I’m 7’2 and 7″3 with my shoes on and I weigh about 272lbs ( 123.6 kgs).
BC: What are the significant cultural differences you’ve had to deal with since moving to the United States and how did you adjust to it?
HT: The lifestyle, food, different style of education systems etc. It’s a lot. But it was actually not very difficult for me to adjust because at least I had a good knowledge of English language something which enabled me to adjust a bit quicker although the process never real ends. What I remember is that I had to go slow and had to learn through couple of mistakes I made on the way and still do at times even today.
BC: When you say lifestyle what exactly do you mean or refer? Could you be specific?
HT: Yeah you know the hip hop culture, baggy jeans, joking around too much, not taking advantage of the opportunities they have etc
No offense to most Americans especially the youth but to be honest they have so much opportunities but they don’t seem to be seriously taking advantage of them. For example, they have all these nice and fabulous sports facilities that are not fully utilized. The younger ones here could start training for whatever sport they choose at a very young age while surrounded by lots of support. Imagine if I had a chance to train in these kinds of facilities since when I was a young boy. Or imagine if some people in Tanzania had all these facilities and opportunities. You know what I am trying to say?
BC: So how do you divide you time between practicing and studying at the same time?
HT: It’s just a matter of time management. The time I don’t have classes, I am playing ball. You have like 2 classes a day and you have practices like 4 to 5 hours which includes basketball and weight trainings. There is also time for food ahaha…During the season we have to eat up to 5 times a day. You just have to balance.
BC: Have you thought about what you might use your psychology degree for?
HT: A psychology degree can lead one into so many directions. But on my side, I am intending to use it by helping a lot of kids in Tanzania who are not school especially orphans. That is my goal. I am therefore planning to establish an NGO which will help me in addressing that critical need. I don’t like seeing those kids hanging around in the streets when they are supposed to be in schools. Education is the key and we should all aim on giving it to them.
BC: In hindsight, do you feel that playing at the University of Connecticut is the right choice for you in regards to the development of your game and preparing for the NBA? Why?
HT: Oh yes! I think my decision to come back was/is a wise one. On top of all I know God have plans for everyone including myself. There are a lot of great players who are now playing in the NBA who went through this program. I believe that by continuing to play here I am getting better and more experienced with the game. My decision of course was received by surprise because a lot of people thought that since I come from a small/poor country, I will jump into any offer or idea of playing the NBA, make money and retire after just a short time. I play the game because I love it, I have passion and desire for it. I also understand very well how to play not for money but rather for things that I have mentioned above.
To the game,with love.
BC: How do you think the African professional athletes in North America have developed or evolved over the past ten years or so?
HT: I think it has been pretty good so far. I know it is not as easy for them as anyone else would think but they are trying very well. There is a whole issue of not getting enough opportunities or being represented by wrong people and stuff like that but the most I know are doing pretty good.
BC: When you hear success stories of African born athletes like Dikembe Mutombo,Hakeem Olajuwan, Ashton Youboty, Luol Deng and many more others making it to the highest level of competition in North America from very humble beginning, what does that mean to you?
HT: It actually means a lot to me. These guys have opened a way for us. All we have to do is follow their footsteps. I am actually a good friend to most of them. For example I work out a lot with Emeka Okafor. He mentors and gives me a lot of good advices something which I believe is important for any aspiring professional athlete like myself. As you must have heard, he just signed a $72 Million contract with BobCats. So its just a great example to me.
Above and beyond.Can he fly?!!
BC: There is a belief that professional athletes – and to a smaller degree, college athletes – are role models and need to give back to their communities. Do you think this responsibility is enhanced for African born athletes in North American and Europe? How
HT: Well giving back to the community does not necessary have to be a wealthy thing. Anyone, regardless of their financial status, could give. For example, you could give back by educating or teaching others. You will therefore be sharing knowledge. You don’t need to have a lot of money to do that.
As professional athletes, yes we are role models. To some degree yes we are supposed to give back to the communities but that should always be everyone’s responsibility and not just athletes.
Leading by example.Hasheem Thabeet offering love and support to those in need.
BC: What kind of exercises do you do on daily basis in order to remain in shape?
HT: Wow, I do a lot of running on hills, stadiums etc. I do a lot of weight training as well. Eating healthy is also important if one wants to remain in shape.
BC: What particular part of the game are you currently working on? (Skills wise.)
HT: Well I am a defence specialist. That is what my coaches tell me. They say every game is a defence clinic for our opponents! Now I am getting better on my all around game. I want to be able to play an inside out game. I can shoot jumper pretty good right now. I bet you will see what I am talking about during the coming season. I just want to stay consistent with that.
BC: As a basketball player, who do you look up to and who would you compare yourself to, in terms of your skills?
HT: Man that is a tough question. Let me think…Mmmh. I am a big man but I like my game to be like a power forward with a lot of moves and not just be overpowering other players all the time. That is why would probably go back to “old school” and watch Hakeem Olajuwon tapes as well as Kareem Abdul Jabar just to see how they became dominant in the game. Thereafter I try to play like them
BC: What is the best advice you have ever received so far as far as your basketball career is concerned? Who gave you that advice?
HT: Basketball advices are almost all the same. Work hard, have discipline and everything will come your way. But my Mom plays a big part of my decisions. She has always advised me to approach everything slowly. For example I remember her telling me not to jump over and start thinking about the National Championship before even playing the first game of the season. So I do pay much attention to what she says. But at the same time, my coaches help me a lot and I respect and pay equally attention to them as well.
BC: How do you think you did in the last NCAA season? Do you believe that you can do more to become number one, if yes, what do you think you need to improve most and why?
HT: I think I did really well as an individual. I am just disappointed that my team didn’t make a good run as we wanted. But I was a conference’s Defensive Player of The Year (Big East Conference), National Defensive Player of The Year; I broke the single season Shot Blocks record that was sent in 1992 by Alonzo Mourning with 92 blocks with his 92 blocks. I had 94 blocks and I am 2nd time all time in shot blocks record in UConn with 252 behind Emeka Okafor who has 315 blocks. Okafor played for UConn all the way until he graduated. I am only going to be in my 3rd year. I therefore have pretty good chance to set mine. I am therefore progressing very well. What I need to improve is just to become more offensive minded player and a finisher. Also because I went to couple of skills academy this summer and did very well on offense, I am projected real high to go to the draft next year.
BC: How are you dealing with fans, knowing that when you play well, they all talk about you and praise you but as soon your game wasn’t satisfactory they are all turns against you?
HT: Well fans are going to be there all the time. And honestly we need them. But we also know that there will also be haters. In most of the time we try not to pay too much attention to that stuff. We just thank our true fans who always stays with us when we win or even when we lose. Much thanks to all our fans as a team as well as my personal fans.
BC: There are a lot of rumours that you will probably be going to the NBA next year. So have you met any NBA scouts? Tell us more about that?
HT: Mmmh, yes there is a big chance and yes I have seen so many scouts who have come to see my workouts and stuff like that. Apparently, they are not allowed to talk to us so I just see a lot of them including a couple of GM’s who have comes and go after leaving some feedback to my coaches. Most of them have mentioned to my coaches that I look good on the court and I keep getting better every time. Lots of thanks and regards to my coaches. Thanks to my team mates as well for making me a better player and a better person outside basketball. They mean a lot to me.
BC: Outside of basketball, what are your other passions and interests?
HT: I love travelling, shopping, playing scrabble, movies, soccer, video games, modelling/models, swimming (lol) and hanging out with my friends.
BC: Who are your top three favourite basketball and soccer players in the world?
HT: I don’t have favourite basketball players but I like watching Kobe, Lebron James and Kevin Garnett (KG)
In soccer I like Ronaldinho, Christiano Ronaldo and Rhobinho they nice, they put it on the show.
BC: Who are your favourite musicians in Tanzania?
HT: I grew up in the Bongo Flava era and I am a good friend to a lot of artists. I therefore listen to everything man.
BC: What movie have you seen lately? Who are your best actors?
HT: Hancock and the Dark Knight. I also loved the Last Batman. My favourite actors are Will Ferrell and new James Bond. I basically watch a lot of movies.
Hasheem with actor/comedian Chris Tucker when they met in Arusha-Tanzania
BC: What is one thing that people don’t know about you?
HT: Ahahha, ok I’m so amiable, I’m so up to date, I’m funny, friendly, smart and neat and a lot of good stuff.
BC: Lastly, do you want to send any shout outs to your buddies?
HT: Sure. First of all I want to send shout outs to my mom. She is the best mom in the world. Shout out to all my people here in the US who have helped me and continue to help on this journey (history) that I am making now. My people in Springfield, Richard, Baraka, Daudi. Everybody and my people in New Jersey, PK, Msafiri, Tifu, Abdul. My people in Houston,TX; Miraji and Chapakazi 4 Life in Bongo.If I didn’t mention anyone, shout out to YOU too.
Last but not least, shout out to BC. Jeff you are doing good man. Keep it up!