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Tanzanian Hasheem Thabeet May be NBA Bound
Michigan State advanced to its second national championship game by beating Connecticut, 82 to 73 on Saturday night. It was however not hard to be impressed by Hasheem Thabeet from Tanzania. It seems obvious that some NBA team somewhere must be plotting how they can acquire him during the next Draft. Here's an interesting post about him by ""

Thabeet is a happy-go-lucky, shot-blocking UConn center that has improved dramatically over the last three years, and Suton is the non-chalant Michigan State pivot with innate rebounding and ability and deft passing skills.

The guy is a monster,” Suton said of Thabeet.

“This should be an interesting match-up.” Thabeet said of Suton.

In more ways than one. What most do not know of these two foreign big men, is that both have taken a long, winding, and certainly difficult paths to where they are today.

Six Years Ago: Basketball and Opportunity
Hasheem Thabeet, the 7-3 Junior center from Tanzania, has been manning the pivot for UConn all season, garnering the Big East conference’s defensive player of the year award and conference player of the year.  He also set the conference’s all-time shot-blocking record as Uconn has spent the majority of the season as the #1-ranked team in the country.

For as great as the ride has been for  Hasheem Thabeet, how he came to wear a UConn jersey is far and away from the  upbringing of many of his American counterparts.  Born in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, Thabeet certainly didn’t have scouts watching his every move in the seventh grade.  Far from it.

“This is a dream for me,” said Thabeet. “Six years ago I would have never imagined being here in the United States playing basketball.”

Thabeet shoots over Goran SutonSix years ago, Thabeet was 16 years old and was in an internet cafe in Tanzania sending emails to random U.S. colleges in hope of a basketball scholarship.  He has spent time working as a club security guard and as a small time runway model, but he was looking for an opportunity to better support his mother and younger sister.

The previous year, Thabeet lost his father to complications from diabetes and as the sole male of his household, he felt obligated to provide for his family.

Hasheem would eventually go back to school, and there he would pick up basketball for the first time.  Playing for Makongo high school in Dar Es Salaam,  he earned a scholarship to Laiser Hill Academy in Nairobi, Kenya where his play was eventually noticed by French businessman Oliver Noah. a man with international basketball connections.

In January 2005, Thabeet would find himself moving around the United States trying to find a home, first Thabeet was in Los Angeles, then Picyune, Mississippi, then in Houston, all within a year.  Then in the summer of 2006, Hasheem Thabeet found himself on the campus of the University of Connecticut.

Unpolished, Thabeet has been pushed by the coaches and has worked hard to become the player he is today.  Though still lacking refinement on offense, he has dramatically improved in his time in Storrs, Conn.  “No player I’ve ever had at UConn has improved to the level that Hasheem has improved.” said a proud Jim Calhoun, Connecticut’s head coach.

I’ll say. Just six years ago, Hasheem Thabeet was in a small internet cafe in Eastern Africa begging, hoping for an opportunity for himself and his family.  Six year later, Thabeet is expected to leave UConn a year early and will be selected in the top-five of this year’s NBA draft.

“All I can do now is thank (my coaches) and appreciate the opportunity they have given me.” said Thabeet.

Nine Years Ago: Basketball and Land Mines
Goran Suton, Michigan State’s Senior center  has had less headlines than Thabeet this season, but has played an important role in propelling the Spartans to the Final Four. With great performances against Kansas (20 points and 9 rebounds) and versus Louisville (19 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists), Suton was voted the Midwest region’s Most Outstanding Player.

But like Thabeet, Suton’s path into this weekend’s spotlight hasn’t been easy, with surprising turns, injuries,… and landmines.

When Suton was a young child growing up near Sarajevo, Bosnia, the burgeoning Bosnian civil war finally broke out.  The war was so close that when Goran was outside playing with friends, they could hear the distinct sounds of gunfire.

Fearing for his family’s safety, Suton’s father, Miroslav decided that his family were no longer safe where they were, so Miroslav arranged for Goran, his older brother Darjan, and their mother to fly out of Bosnia and into Serbia.

In May of 1992, Miroslav packed the family into their tiny, family car and drove through the crossfire to the Sarajevo airport.  The Sutons’ flight was on a military transport plane, and the last one out of Sarajevo.  Their flight was supposed to leave early in the morning, at 7 a.m., but because of the conditions, would not leave for another 12 hours.

“People were freaking out,” Suton remembers. “When the plane finally came, everyone rushed toward it to get on. I had no idea what was happening. I just held my mother’s hand.”

The Sutons were only supposed to be in Serbia a few weeks, maybe a couple months, but because of the conditions of their homeland, they would end up spending the next seven years hiding out in a suburb of Serbia.

When the Sutons did return home in 1999, they found their home riddled with bullet holes; the first floor of their home was completely burned and gutted and the third floor was missing most of the roof.

Back home, the 13-year old Goran old and brother Darjan would sometimes play basketball in front of their house.  When a loose ball would stray into the tall grass of the nearby field, neither Goran nor Darjan would dare chase the ball down from fear of Goran Suton boxes out Hasheem Thabeetstepping onto a landmine left from the civil war.

The landmines were reminders of the war they had fled.

The Sutons would eventually land in East Lansing Michigan, where his father, Miroslav, had a brother and sister.

Goran would attend Lansing Everett High School, the same as Magic Johnson, and in his Senior season would win a State Championship, but Suton would have trouble learning English, “I think some people thought I was dumb in high school because I would mumble, or my English wasn’t good. I spent hours after school with my teacher.”

Suton’s father and mother, Zivana, would work various jobs to make a living and protect Goran and Darjan. “The reason I do basketball and want to succeed is to pay my parents back for all they’ve done for me,” said Suton. “I don’t know what I would have done if I was in their situation.”

“Sometimes I still dream about it, sometimes, I have flashbacks. It seems like it was 50 years ago. To be honest, I’d rather be talking three-pointers than Bosnia.”

Goran Suton certainly isn’t an unknown, especially now.  The fourth-year senior has been on the NBA radar for sometime, having played significant roles for the Spartans the last three years.  When March Madness ends, depending on his performances, Suton may be a second round NBA pick, maybe not.

Whatever the outcome, basketball has already accomplished much for Suton and his family, helping Goran and his family to forget the horrors of his childhood years. ”I think that it changes the way I think about the world and basketball. It shapes you as a person. It makes you respect and appreciate more.” said Suton.

Basketball in Perspective
This weekend, the two centers’ unusual paths will meet in Detroit, Michigan and their respective stories puts the intense competition and at-all-costs-winning attitudes into perspective.

“Everybody that thinks they had a hard life, people from the projects, or the ‘hood, or the slums, well, Goran was from worse than that,” said Travis Walton, Suton’s roommate and teammate. “Some people ask, ‘Is he tough enough?’ I think it’s just that his appreciation for basketball is not life or death, like it is to us. He’s seen something that’s bigger, that’s really life and death.”

“(Thabeet is) a very tough kid, maybe the toughest guy on the team, mentally and a lot of different ways.” said Calhoun.

What Hasheem Thabeet and Goran Suton have gone through in the last decade has been nothing short of amazing.  After dealing with death and war in their lives certainly places basketball in priority, but at the same time, they both fully appreciate what basketball has done for them.

Or more succinctly, Michigan State’s coach Tom Izzo may have been referring to Suton, but he could have easily been referring to Thabeet’s journey too. “The live-and-die of a game,” said Tom Izzo. “isn’t the same for people that have seen life and death.”
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South Africa
Hasheems tha man!!
Reply    Favorite    Flag as Abusive    Posted at: 4/8/2009 9:04:44 PM
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