A PERIODIC LOOK AT SOME OF THE MOST INTRIGUING RISING STARS
On a trip to a mall in Las Cruces, members of the New Mexico State basketball team heard the staccato footsteps of a running toddler and the plaintive voice of the frustrated mother who was begging him to come back. As the boy turned the corner, he caught sight of 7'5" sophomore center Sim Bhullar, whom teammates affectionately call Shrek. The boy froze, mouth agape, and then ran screaming back to his mother.
The Aggies would love to elicit similar reactions from opposing players. Sim, along with his 7'3" brother, Tanveer, make up what is most likely the tallest sibling tandem in college basketball history. NMSU, leveraging associate head coach Paul Weir's Canadian contacts, lured the brothers from suburban Toronto (where their parents, immigrants from India, run a gas station) to the rocky desert along the Mexican border with a simple promise: to make them good enough for pro basketball.
It's a tall order. Though Sim, 21, was the Western Athletic Conference freshman of the year last season after averaging 10.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, he played only 24.4 minutes per game because he was so easily fatigued. Tanveer, a 18-year-old redshirt freshman center with more nimble up-and-under moves than his brother, also needs to work on his stamina.
Without the benefits of a power-conference athletic budget, Aggies coach Marvin Menzies and his staff must devise creative solutions to problems with everything from the team's commercial flights (exit rows, please) to hotels (Sim gets his own room with a king-sized bed, but the showerheads never rise past his shoulders) to weight training and other workout machines (Sim's running stride measures a whopping 80½ inches; a typical treadmill is only 62 inches long). To see how this project is coming along, Menzies and his staff gave SI a close-up look at a day in the lives of the Aggies' big men on campus.
8:45 a.m. Going to class
Sim walks through the heart of the New Mexico State campus on his way to astronomy class. Other students look up as they shuffle past him. "How tall are you?" asks a young woman. A few giant strides later Sim hears the same question from a university maintenance worker.
Sim and Tanveer make every effort to fit in, even if the furniture made for the typical student doesn't fit them. Sim always sits in the back row of his classes, lest he block anyone else's view. Tanveer brings a hardback book with him to use as a desktop; none of the desks are high enough to fit over his legs.
As Sim heads home from class a few hours later, Tanveer starts his day by attending a world-geography lecture on the fall of the Soviet Union. Then he grabs a buffalo chicken sandwich from Subway before filing into English class for a final presentation. When the professor calls for volunteers, Tanveer's hand shoots up. He begins a three-minute argument on why grade retention (also known as social promotion) is bad for U.S. education. He rests his notes on the podium, which does not quite reach his waist. A serious student, Tanveer earned a 4.0 GPA for the fall semeseter.
3 p.m. Training Room
"Hips! Hips! Hips!" yells Trei Steward, NMSU basketball's strength-and-conditioning coach. Tanveer is performing an Olympic lift. "Be explosive!" Steward says.
No hour in the day is more crucial to the Bhullars' basketball futures than the one they spend with Steward. Lugging around 7'5" of flesh and bones while chasing smaller, quicker opponents often leaves Sim gasping for air after just five minutes of game action.
Steward enlisted the help of a nutritionist to determine ideal playing weights for the brothers: 310 for Sim (who is down to 355 from 408 last year) and 290 for Tanveer, who weighs 350. But achieving those numbers has proved difficult.
If Steward orders the Bhullars to hit the elliptical trainer? Sim's size 22 shoe is 16 inches long, too big for the 14-inch footholds. Suicide runs? The additional pounding on the brothers' bodies invites career-ending injuries. And the straps of heart-rate monitors aren't long enough to fit around their chests, so Steward can rely only on twice-weekly weigh-ins to gauge Sim's and Tanveer's progress.
Steward moves plyometric boxes outside for workouts so that Sim's and Tanveer's heads don't hit the 9½-foot-high ceiling in the weight room. He devises pool workouts for the brothers, and he has them do sprints on the soft surface of the 100-meter, 55-degree incline behind the NMSU football stadium known as Truth Hill.
Today the coach sends Tanveer to Truth Hill for five climbs. Tanveer does six. He hunches over after his last ascent and says, "You can see everything from here."
4:00 p.m. The Court
Weir takes out a chair, places it at the top of the key of Lou Henson Memorial Court and puts a ball on the seat. He instructs Sim to get low, grab the ball off the chair and drop-step for a hook shot.
For the next 45 minutes Weir runs Sim through a series of drills designed to increase the explosiveness of the old-school back-to-the-basket center. "There are a lot of times when he defers when he's close enough to be a force on the interior," Menzies says. "Because he's a good passer, he looks to involve his teammates."
Though most of Sim's contributions are on the defensive end—his 85 blocks last season set an NMSU single-season record—his mere presence on the court creates scoring opportunities. "Someone's either going to double- or triple-team him, or front him and help off the weak side," Menzies says. "He just draws so much attention, it opens things up for our guards."
Weir wraps up Sim's session with an around-the-world passing drill. Sim, exhausted, slouches on the scorer's table. He's got the best vantage point to see just how far he is from the top.
Sim's running stride measures a whopping 80 ½ inches; a typical treadmill is only 62 inches long.
To see more photos of Sim's and Tanveer's daily life at NMSU, go to SI.com/cbb
The Bhullars By the Numbers
20 IN 1,000,000
Chance of an American man 6'2" to 6'4", aged 20 to 40, being a current NBA player.
1 IN 6
Chance of an American man at least 7 feet tall, aged 20 to 40, being a current NBA player.
* Data from The Sports Gene, by David Epstein.
Strides Sim needs to run the length of the court from baseline to baseline.
More blocked shots Sim needs to break the NMSU career record (200), set by James Moore from 1999--2000 to 2002--03.
Combined, lost by Sim and Tanveer since arriving in Las Cruces.
Maximum number of calories Sim and Tanveer are allowed to consume per day, according to the training staff.
Photographs by JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
Photograph by JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
BASICS TRAINING Sim hits 67.0% of his shots, but his coaches are trying to get him to be more aggressive around the rim so he can increase his 9.8 scoring average.