The NBA Draft is typically overstocked with two types of big men: (1) High-profile guys who went to high-profile schools and have teams just as intrigued with their potential as they are afraid they’ll be a bust, and (2) So-called “undersized” bigs who go underrated annually and have to prove themselves in an uphill battle from Day One.
Hassan Whiteside doesn’t fit either description. The 7-foot freshman was an unheralded recruit who burst onto the scene this season at Marshall, leading the nation with 5.4 blocks per game. Whiteside is projected to go anywhere from the Top-10 to later in the 20’s, but whichever team gets him, odds are their fan base won’t know anything about their new project.
Back in Dime #56, while he was just making a name for himself in Conference-USA, I profiled Whiteside in a “What’s My Name?” article:
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Humble as he tries to be during interviews, the MySpace page doesn’t lie.
Hassan Whiteside, freshman center at Marshall University who is the best shot-blocker in the country this side of Jarvis Varnado, lets the subhead on his profile say what he won’t say out loud: “I dare u 2 jump wit me.”
A native of Gastonia, N.C. (hometown of James Worthy) who snuck up on the NCAA scene, the 7-foot, 235-pound Whiteside was averaging 13.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.4 blocks per game at press time. Through late-February he was leading the nation in total blocks and blocks per game over Varnado, Mississippi State’s senior All-American candidate who holds the NCAA’s all-time blocks record. This season, Whiteside already has three triple-doubles — dropping 14 points, 14 boards and 10 blocks against Central Florida, and 14-17-11 against NAIA school Brescia, then another 14-11-13 on Central Florida — plus a 14-point, 17-board, 9-block effort against Ohio. According to some mock draft websites, he is projected to go as high as No. 2 in the 2011 NBA Draft, or at least in the Lottery should he go pro this summer.
“My job is just to be a big presence down low,” Hassan says. “Blocking shots, getting rebounds, scoring — whatever it takes to win, basically. That’s always been my M.O.”
Hassan is the son of former NFL defensive end Hasson Arbubakrr, who played two years with the Vikings and Buccaneers in the 1980s. Told from an early age by doctors that he’d grow to be around seven feet tall, Hassan was a 6-5 junior wing at East Side H.S. in Newark, N.J., before a seven-inch growth spurt between his junior and senior year put him on the radar of recruiters across the country. Transferring to The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C., he had offers from the likes of UConn, Louisville, South Carolina and St. John’s before choosing Marshall.
“I wanted to change people’s perception about Marshall,” Whiteside says. “It’s a program on the rise, and I really liked the coaches. They’re really hands-on with the players and want to work with you.”
West Virginia sophomore forward Kevin Jones played AAU ball with Hassan, and he saw him go for 18 points, six boards and two blocks when the 9th-ranked Mountaineers beat Marshall in January.
“He’s very talented, very athletic,” Jones says. “He can shoot better than I thought he could, so that makes him that much more valuable to his team. He’ll have a great career there. He’s such a good shot-blocker, you just have to try and get him off his feet and maybe get him in foul trouble. He can get your shot from anywhere.”
A week after the West Virginia game, Whiteside put up 22 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks in a close loss to Conference-USA stalwart Memphis.
“Rebounding and blocking shots is kind of natural to me. The more experience I get in games, the better I’m getting at it,” Whiteside says. “It’s just reading the ball off the rim and reading people’s bodies when they lay it up. I guess having a 7-7 wingspan never hurts, either.
“I watch film on guys like Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning,” he adds. “Those guys were never scared of getting dunked on. Mourning said a good shot-blocker is never scared to get dunked on.”
Although the C-USA could technically be considered a major conference, they’ve basically been a mid-major ever since losing Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette, South Florida and Louisville to the Big East in 2005. That was the same year Marshall joined the conference, and around the same time Memphis began dominating what many analysts call a one-horse race. Whiteside is hoping to shift the power balance before he’s done; at press time, the Thundering Herd were 22-7 overall (10-4 conference), right on the heels of leaders Memphis, UAB and UTEP.
“The name on the jersey doesn’t make the school better. It doesn’t make you a better player,” Whiteside says. “I come into games thinking I’m the most underrated player out there and we’re the most underrated team, so I have that chip on my shoulder.”