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April 11, 2007

Finances may push Thabeet into draft

HARTFORD, Conn. Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet would like to return to the school for his sophomore season, but must first determine if that is financially possible.

UConn coach Jim Calhoun said Wednesday the 7-foot-3 Thabeet will likely announce in the next week whether he'll make himself eligible for the NBA draft. Players have until April 29 to declare for the June 28 draft.

The 20-year-old Thabeet is from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He was 14 when his father, Thabit Manka, an engineer and well known soccer player, died. Thabeet came to the United States to help ease the financial strain on his widowed mother, Rukia Manka, and two younger siblings.

Calhoun said the family was relatively well off when Manka died, but is now facing some financial hardship.

"He wants to stay very badly," Calhoun said. "He's just got to find ways in which some help can be given the mother. I don't mean financial help. Maybe some type of work program, it's very complex."

Thabeet's mother and an aunt have traveled to the United States to help Thabeet make his decision, Calhoun said. His brother and sister remained in Tanzania.

"He's very happy at UConn, he's very happy being a student," Calhoun said. "He just has some responsibilities that are a little unique from most kids, very unique from most kids."

Thabeet has an insurance policy against being injured while in college, and would get a bigger one next year, Calhoun said. But unlike American players, he is not eligible for a Pell Grant or similar programs.

He can work during the summer.

Thabeet has been playing organized basketball for less than five years. Considered a raw talent, he averaged 6.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game as a freshman. He also blocked 118 shots, and was named to the Big East all-rookie team.

Calhoun said he has no idea where in the draft Thabeet might be taken. But if he leaves school, and is not drafted high enough to secure a guaranteed NBA contract, Thabeet could face immigration and other problems.

"This is not a simple case of a kid wanting to go out, or not go out," Calhoun said.

For more coverage of Connecticut, visit UConnReport.com.



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