When asked by the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., to describe his rookie year, Hasheem Thabeet gave an interesting response: "I was like a deer in a flashlight."
Even though Thabeet speaks five languages, that was not the English saying he was going for. Then again, the way he has played in two NBA seasons, any bright light, even the beam of a flashlight, has seemed to be too much for him.
It can be like that when you are still learning how to play the game. Thabeet grew up playing soccer in Tanzania, a country of 41 million in southeast Africa.
Thabeet, who turned 24 last week, didn't begin playing basketball until age 15, not long after his father died. For the oldest male child in one of the world's poorest countries, coming to America was a way to provide a better life for his family.
He e-mailed American universities, hoping he might earn a scholarship. An adviser spotted him at a tournament, and he ended up on a curious winding road through a couple of high schools in California and Mississippi before landing in Houston, where he moved in with a family to attend Cypress Christian High School.
When Thabeet arrived at Cypress Christian in 2005, he had difficulty performing the simplest of basketball skills. Awkward and uncoordinated, even at 7-3, he had trouble dunking a basketball.
The general consensus was Thabeet couldn't play big-time Division I basketball.