Hasheem Thabeet has had a towering presence his entire life, and a recent visit to Houchin Elementary in Moore was no different as he unfurled himself from inside the Rolling Thunder Book Bus.
At 7-foot-3, Thabeet is the tallest active player in the NBA. He also is the tallest player in Thunder history and the tallest in franchise history, edging out Tom Burleson, James Donaldson and Rich King of the Seattle SuperSonics, who all measured 7-foot-2.
The problem is the 263-pound Thabeet has come up small his first three NBA seasons, which has many wondering exactly how big of a deal he'll be for the Thunder.
Thabeet was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. He was chosen between power forward Blake Griffin of Oklahoma and shooting guard James Harden of Arizona State, both of whom have excelled since their arrival.
Working in Thabeet's favor is the fact he comes to OKC by choice.
A native of the Republic of Tanzania and a collegiate product at Connecticut, Thabeet had no say in his three previous pro stops. The Memphis Grizzlies drafted him and eventually traded him to the Houston Rockets, who dealt him to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Three teams in three years equaled no fun and little success.
“Definitely this is a great opportunity for me,” Thabeet said. “Every situation in the past doesn't really matter. The present is what I've got to face. I've got to deal with what I can control, come in and work hard and just be a part of the team.
“It's another situation, so I've got to come in with a different mentality and be ready to work hard.”
OKC acquired Thabeet as a free agent with little financial risk. The Thunder signed him to a deal that guarantees him $1.2 million this season. After that, it's non-guaranteed at $1.2 million in 2013-14 and $1.25 million in 2014-15.
“Young players, as we've seen, they all develop at different rates in different situations,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said after Thabeet signed July 11. “I wouldn't make any judgments based on two or three years. I think we have to allow that process to take its course and allow him to continue his development and see where things lead after his time with the Thunder.”
Thabeet has been working out at the Thunder practice facility throughout the summer and occasionally has gone through drills with fellow centers Cole Aldrich and offseason signee Daniel Orton, a former Bishop McGuinness High School standout.
OKC starting center Kendrick Perkins has spent time at the practice facility, rehabbing offseason surgeries to his groin and left wrist. Perkins said the groin is “fine.” The wrist is still healing and just began the final month of an anticipated three-month rehab process.
Though there is no official depth chart at center, the logical pecking order is Perkins-Aldrich-Thabeet-Orton. There was a void at the No. 2 spot when OKC chose not to re-sign free agent veteran Nazr Mohammed this summer.