|At 7-feet-7 and 360 pounds, UNC Asheville's Kenny George is a big work in progress|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 17 January 2008 18:06|
Then 7-foot-7 Kenny George, towering over everyone else, reached up, caught the ball and dunked it - without leaving the floor.
``It's the greatest option I've ever had,'' Smithson said with a grin while recalling the play this month against top-ranked North Carolina.
No other school in the nation has that kind of fallback plan. Standing about 7-feet-9 with his shoes on - size 26 shoes - the tallest player in college or the NBA has gone from an awkward-looking YouTube cult figure who played little last season, to a soft-handed sometimes-dominating inside player that may have an NBA future.
``He has only scratched the surface of how good he can be,'' coach Eddie Biedenbach said.
Due to his enormous size, nothing has been easy for the 360-pound George, from everyday life to getting back into condition after two major knee injuries robbed him of nearly three full seasons.
While looking painfully slow at times, George, a junior, has improved his conditioning to become a major factor in UNC Asheville's best start in 23 years. In only 22 minutes a game, George is averaging 13.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and is second in the nation with 4.9 blocks.
He had the winning dunk in the Bulldogs' upset of South Carolina earlier this month, and had a career-high 21 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in a win over Buffalo.
``I'm not 100 percent physically fit the way I want to be yet, but I'm getting there,'' the shy George said in his deep, monotone. ``The shape I'm in now is allowing me to do more on the court.''
His size and strength make him nearly impossible to guard. The tallest opposing centers come up to his shoulders. His wingspan of 101 1/2 inches allows him to shoot down at the basket and he's making a nation-best 72 percent of his shots.
``The big guy is a load inside, there is no question,'' North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
George, who grew up in Chicago, was 6-10 his freshman year in high school and shot up to 7-5 four years later. Biedenbach measured him at 7-7 - without shoes - before last season.
The only shoes George owns are special Nike-made sneakers that are part of UNC Asheville's contract with the footwear company. His shoes are four sizes bigger than Bob Lanier's famous bronzed shoes that sit in the Hall of Fame.
The 22-year-old George, who is too big to fit behind the wheel of a car and doesn't have a driver's license, insists he's healthy. But there are health concerns for someone his size.
Gigantism or acromegaly, where a tumor on the pituitary gland causes an oversecretion of growth hormone, is often the cause of someone getting that tall. George declined to discuss the specifics of his health, only to say he has an overactive pituitary gland.
Dr. Cynthia Burns, an endocrinologist at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, said someone who has had a pituitary tumor removed can live a healthy life.
``There are three cases per million people per year. It's so rare,'' Burns said. ``Once it's treated, they can have a very full life.''
George's biggest obstacle is the stress his size puts on his joints. He dislocated his right knee in high school and his left knee two years ago. The knees still cause him problems and are one of the reasons the Bulldogs often have to wait for George to lumber into the frontcourt before starting a play.
The injuries limited him to 11 minutes per game last season, when he was remembered more for odd-looking clips on YouTube, ranging from George catching an inbounds pass and dunking flat-footed to where he accidentally ran into a Charleston Southern guard and sent him sprawling out of bounds.
This season, though, George is being taken seriously, even though he doesn't start. He had 10 blocks in a win over Campbell, is a 64 percent free-throw shooter and played 28 minutes in the win over South Carolina. The Bulldogs entered the weekend in first place in the Big South Conference.
George, who acknowledged he needs to lose about 15 pounds, often is limited in practice. During a workout this month, George lightly jogged on the side while his teammates did sprints - even though George's missed free throw led to the extra running.
But not one teammate complained. They respect him for how he's improved and how he deals with being 7-7.
``I feel bad for him a lot of times,'' said senior guard K.J. Garland. ``You go into a restaurant and he's not normal. He can't enjoy a normal meal. I try to take up for him at times when I can. I'll tell people to back off a little bit. But he's done a tremendous job dealing with that.''
A mass communications major, George has written a handful of screenplays and short stories. His eyes light up when he talks about perhaps becoming the world's tallest writer or director.
Biedenbach believes he wouldn't have made it in college - there isn't a desk on campus that fits him - if he wasn't so readily accepted by fellow students.
``I really love film,'' George said. ``I love basketball. Whatever path I happen to go on, we'll see what happens.''
George hopes to end up in the NBA, although he realizes he must be able to move better. Dunked on by North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough in a game earlier this month, several scouting services wonder if George can pass an NBA physical.
Biedenbach, who coached 7-foot-2 Tom Burleson while he was an assistant at North Carolina State, thinks George can become the school's first NBA player.
``Can he play in the NBA? Yes. Do I think he will? He's got to stay healthy,'' Biedenbach said. ``If he stays healthy for these two years, he'll play in the NBA.''