Hasheem Thabeet will forego his final year of eligibility at UConn and declare for the NBA Draft, he told SI.com on Tuesday. The 7-foot-3 Tanzanian, who was a second-team All-American and Big East co-Player of the Year as a junior, said he intends to begin the process of interviewing agents soon.
"I sat down with my friends and family, and with my coaches, and have decided I want to give up my last year at UConn so I can put my name in the draft," Thabeet told SI.com. "I know that my family and my coaches are always looking out for the best for me, and I believe what they've all told me -- that this is the right time to turn pro."
Huskies coach Jim Calhoun met with Thabeet on Monday to discuss future plans, and Thabeet convened with family members -- including his mother, Rukia Manka, and brother, Akbar, who were in the stands at the Final Four -- on Monday night. Calhoun had been saying since October that he expected this to be Thabeet's final season in Storrs, and the coach supported his center's decision to turn pro when they met again on Tuesday. "I really trust whatever coach Calhoun tells me." Thabeet said. "He's been there for me and helped me do a lot of growing up as a player."
Thabeet had considered entering the draft following his sophomore season -- more for family and financial reasons than basketball reasons -- but opted to return just before the deadline. Thabeet, who was born in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and came to UConn by way of an odyssey through Kenya, California, Mississippi and Texas, is set to become the first Tanzanian ever to play in the NBA.
He arrived in Storrs in 2006 as a raw prospect who'd only been playing basketball since the age of 15, and over three seasons developed into the nation's biggest defensive game-changer. In a statement released Tuesday, Calhoun called Thabeet "one of the most dominant defensive players in the history of college basketball," Multiple NBA scouts told SI.com that they expect Thabeet to be a top-five pick in June's draft.
He averaged 13.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.2 blocks this season for the Huskies as they finished 31-5 and reached the Final Four for the second time this decade. At the Final Four in Detroit, Thabeet was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches' Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. He finished his junior season with 152 blocks, four shy of Emeka Okafor's UConn record.
"I want to thank everyone at UConn and in Husky Nation for all the support, and express my appreciation to all my coaches and my teammates for making me the player I am right now," Thabeet said. "Hopefully all the fans in Connecticut and from Tanzania who came out for me during college will be there for me when I get to the league."