Joel Huerto is managing editor of One Man Fastbreak.net and a sports consultant with Opposing Views.com. He has been a member of the sports media for almost 20 years, which included nine years as a news editor at the Los Angeles Times. He will cover a variety of topics, from coach and player profiles to hot-button issues. Joel is also known as "maniLA ice" for his cool demeanor in the friendly confines of the YMCA hardwood. He loves to shoot the "tear drop" and prefers to play zone to hide his deficiencies on defense.
Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet recently has been getting some serious attention now that the Huskies are No. 1 in the polls and his last two games were showcased under the bright lights of the Worldwide Leader.
But before we crown the 7-foot-3 junior center as The Next Big Thing, it should be noted that the 21-year-old from Tanzania does not have much in the way of competition. And as much as Thabeet has improved by leaps and bounds this season — his 13 points and 10 rebounds are up from a season ago — he is still considered very raw. He's good with the potential to be great, but far, far from being dominant.
In his marquee matchup with freshman Greg Monroe of Georgetown earlier in the season, Thabeet scored four points and looked lost. Not exactly the type of numbers you would expect from a lottery pick. His coach, Jim Calhoun, has said publicly that even though he thinks Thabeet is ready for the NBA, he's still a "blank canvas" waiting for that brush of greatness.
Defense is not the issue with Thabeet. He continues the Huskies' great lineage of shot-blockers (his 94 blocks rank second in the nation) and is beginning to acquire a nasty attitude when it comes to rebounding. However, Thabeet has a lot to learn when it comes his offensive skills. He does not have a consistent back-to-the-basket game. No quick spin moves. No devastating drop steps. No jump hooks. Basically, he relies solely on his athletic ability.
Which begs the question, "What has happened to the dominant centers in college basketball?"
There has not been a true dominant center in college basketball in more than 15 years. Wake Forest's Tim Duncan was probably the last dominant 7-footer (and he's closer to 6-10 than 7-0) when he was a consensus All-American in 1997.
Now, the game has a bunch of forwards trying to play center, and big men who prefer to step back behind the 3-point line rather than roll to the basket and take the high-percentage shot.
Somewhere in heaven, Pete Newell is frowning.
Ohio State's Greg Oden could have been The Next Big Thing, but it is hard to lump Oden with the likes of Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Ralph Sampson when he played only half a season with the Buckeyes.
Besides, Oden was offensively challenged. He lacked a go-to move in the block and looked almost in pain whenever he was asked to go one-on-one in the paint.
Shaq goes out of his way to remind all of us that he is the last true big man. When you think about it, Shaq is absolutely correct.
In 1992, when O'Neal was a junior at Louisiana State, he was such a one-man wreaking crew opponents feared for their lives. He was fearless and peerless. Few Earthlings could withstand the power of the Shaq Attack. He evoked memories of Ewing, Olajuwon and Sampson when centers ruled the planet in the 1980s.
O'Neal is a dinosaur. A T-Rex with better hands. A true monster in the middle. He is a classic dump-it-down-low post player who commands double and triple teams. When was the last time a college center commanded such attention? Even the Worldwide Leader's collection of experts will be hard-pressed to answer that.