Everyone loves a big story. And few things are bigger than Kenny George, the tallest player in NCAA history.
A 7-foot-7 junior at UNC-Asheville, George has been a curiosity for most of his college career. Recruited out of Chicago, George sat out two years with injuries (ruptured knee caps; earned a medical redshirt), averaged 5.5 points and 2.0 blocks a game (in about 10 minutes playing time) last season, but has played a bigger role this year.
Much bigger. Few players this season have improved as much as George.
He leads the nation in blocks (5.4), grabs 9.8 boards a game, makes 70 percent of his shots (dunks are easy when you don't have to jump) has more than doubled his scoring average (12.8) and his minutes played (22.2). The Bulldogs (11-3) are 7-1 when George scores in double figures. But it's the minutes played stat that is most important for a guy George's size.
When it comes to BIG players – anyone taller than 7-5 – they're usually beanpoles who just block shots like Manute Bol or so ungainly and uncoordinated like Gheorghe Muresan that they're just a curiosity. That's why someone like Yao Ming has been such a boon for the Houston Rockets. He may be the NBA's slowest player, but he's skilled and handles his bulk like someone three or four inches shorter would.
Here's a list of the tallest players in basketball history (heights are in centimeters). Usually, 7-4 is the height threshold for an athletic, useful player. That includes guys like Ralph Sampson or Rik Smits (though Smits wasn't in Sampson's class). They could run, play defense and hit shots instead of lumbering around the court. Sometimes really tall is too tall.
So when players taller than 7-4 show any kind of skill, it's intriguing to coaches and scouts, which is why a guy like Shawn Bradley always comes up when talking about really tall players. (Let alone the difficulty in finding clothes that fit or not being able to drive a car.)
Bradley (7-foot-5) caught endless flak for what he wasn't (a dominant center), but he was surprisingly mobile for his size and was a terror on defense while at BYU. As a freshman, led the NCAA in blocks in 1991, averaging 5.21 a game and was the No. 2 overall pick that season. He never thrived in the NBA, but did stick around for 12 seasons.
ANYWAY, the point is that Bradley was mobile enough that he wasn't a liability on the court resulting in nearly 30 minutes a game to start his NBA career. George, now that he's healthy, has been able to stay on the court resulting in easy baskets and an imposing defensive presence for the Bulldogs.
He's already hit a huge shot for UNC-Ashville this season, a dunk that helped seal a win against South Carolina last weekend. If you missed UNC-Asheville's loss to North Carolina on Wednesday, it was a trip. George intimidated the Heels, passed well out double teams and, of course, had no trouble dunking.
(Though he did get dunked on by Tyler Hansbrough, which was quite a sight. Maybe the 6-9 Hansbrough had recurring nightmares of first seeing George last year. "Not until I got up real close was I like 'Wow!'" Hansbrough told The News & Observer.)
George will likely return for his senior season (he's slated for the last pick in the 2009 draft by nbadraft.net), where I hope he continues to improve. After all, who doesn't want to see a story like this continue?