At 7 feet 3 inches, Hasheem Thabeet is menacing enough without the Mohawk that he has been sporting during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
But don't let looks fool you. Thabeet is a gentle giant with an engaging smile, a great sense of humor and the intelligence to discuss a wide range of topics. One minute, he might talk about the politics of his native Tanzania. The next, he's bragging about a recipe he just tried out that was a big hit.
"I love people," Thabeet said. "I like meeting different people, seeing different places, doing different things. I enjoy life."
His life has changed dramatically in the past few weeks. The former Connecticut center is a rich man, having been drafted No. 2 overall by the Memphis Grizzlies. He is living his dream of playing in the NBA and is excited about his future.
Thabeet sat down after his first NBA Summer League game and talked about the journey that got him to Las Vegas this week.
Q: First, what's up with the hair?
Thabeet: "It was a mistake. I just wanted to get it cleaned up a little. But then I looked in the mirror afterward and said, 'Oh no.' I tried to fix it, but it was too late."
Q: So, this isn't a permanent look for you?
Thabeet: "No way. I've got to cover it up." (He reaches for a Los Angeles Dodgers cap and places it on his head.)
Q: Is it still a bit overwhelming to see yourself in this situation, playing in the NBA?
Thabeet: "Of course. Definitely. Seven years ago, I never thought I would be here. But I came here (to the United States) to learn, and now I am living my dream of playing in the NBA."
Q: The Grizzlies did a lot of homework on you before they took you with the second pick. In doing your homework on them, what did you learn about the Grizzlies?
Thabeet: "It's an exciting team. It's a young team. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs. It's going to be tough. I remember my first year at UConn, we had eight freshmen, but we went through a lot, and my junior year, we went to the Final Four. We're not going to make it to the NBA Finals in one year, but I promised them I would work hard and try to make the team better."
Q: What were your initial impressions of Memphis?
Thabeet: "It's hot. Very hot. The people are very friendly. I think I'm going to like it there."
Q: Is a trip to Graceland on your to-do list?
Thabeet: "Wow, I really don't have an answer to that. There's a lot of country (music) there, which I liked. We'll see. Maybe."
Q: What was it like growing up in Tanzania?
Thabeet: "It was tough. Thank God my dad was educated, he went to Oxford, so I was pushed into education. I thought I'd be like my dad, who is into architecture. But then I came to the States when I was 14 for basketball. I still like architecture."
Q: You were a bouncer at a nightclub. Did you have a lot of problems even though you were 7 feet tall at the time?
Thabeet: "They told me to stand over there, and if I remember, a couple of times when a fight would break out, I'd get away from it and stand off on the side. I didn't want to get in the middle of it. Let someone else break it up."
Q: You also did some modeling. What was that like?
Thabeet: "It was great. I got to experience a lot. I think that's why I know a lot about fashion."
Q: You went to three prep schools in this country. How hard was it for you to bounce around from school to school?
Thabeet: "I had to learn a lot about different cultures. Going from Tanzania to Amsterdam to L.A. to Mississippi to Houston to UConn and now to Memphis, I've seen a lot of different things. The hard part was adjusting to the different cultures. I was never there long enough to get comfortable until I got to UConn."
Q: What are your memories of the six-overtime loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament?
Thabeet: "The whole experience was unbelievable. Coach (Jim) Calhoun kept pushing me, pushing me to get through it. It was an amazing game."
Q: How did playing soccer help you with basketball?
Thabeet: "Soccer didn't just help me with my footwork, it helped me with my vision, to see everything on the court, and it taught me to learn to be patient and to think."
Q: What was tougher to understand, English or Jim Calhoun's English?
Thabeet: "Jim Calhoun's English. You have to pay close attention. He'll tell you something, and you think he means one thing, but he means another. Once I thought he said for me to go into a game, and I got up off the bench to go in, and he said, 'Where are you going?' So you have to listen closely when he speaks."
Q: What's the best trash-talk line in your arsenal?
Thabeet: "When I block someone's shot, sometimes I'll say, 'What were you thinking?' "
Q: People may not know this about me, but ...
Thabeet: "I'm pretty funny. When people see me for the first time, they think I'm this serious guy. But really, I like to laugh, joke around and have fun. I have a good sense of humor."
Q: My hidden talent is ...
Thabeet: "I love to cook. I love to be in the kitchen, experimenting. I watch some of the food shows. I like the one where the guy (Andrew Zimmern) eats all the bizarre foods."
Q: Is Twitter the best way for you to communicate with your friends?
Thabeet: "It's great because now you don't need somebody's phone number to communicate. You don't have to use up all your minutes."
Q: My summer league goal in Las Vegas is ...
Thabeet: "Play hard, have fun, learn from my coaches and teammates and get better every day."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913.