The Michigan men’s basketball team will face one of its biggest challenges Saturday.
Not only is the Wolverines’ upcoming matchup with Purdue huge in shaping the Big Ten’s final standings and both teams’ NCAA résumés, but Michigan will go up against the conference’s tallest player.
Few have been able to size up with the Boilermakers’ rock at center, junior Isaac Haas, this conference season. The 7-foot-2 center is Purdue’s second-highest scorer, averaging 13.4 points per game, and owns the third-highest field goal percentage in the Big Ten at 59.5 percent.
Haas and forward Caleb Swanigan have formed one of college basketball’s strongest frontcourts this season, and are the bedrock of the Boilermakers’ highly efficient offense and defense.
The Daily sat down with Haas at Big Ten Media Day in October to talk about what it’s like being 7-foot-2, his transition from Alabama to Indiana, and what he has in common with Shaquille O’Neal:
The Michigan Daily: Can you give our readers some perspective on what it is like being 7-foot-2?
Isaac Haas: It’s a little hotter up here, heat rises. You definitely get a bird’s eye view, especially for things like concerts, or wherever else you may be in a crowd.
TMD: Do you have any good stories about people coming up to you to talk about your height?
IH: Oh yeah. People will just walk up to me and say, “Oh, you’re tall.” I’m like, “Cool, thanks. I don’t know what you want me to say to that.”
TMD: Coming from Alabama, what has the transition from the South to Indiana been like?
IH: When I first got to Indiana, I was like, “This is completely different.” There are a lot of people here. Coming from a very small, rural town in Alabama to a small campus where everything you need is within a two-mile radius, it’s kind of unbelievable. Everybody knows who you are here and it’s all about basketball. Nobody’s watching football as much. It’s kind of crazy seeing that transition.
TMD: Would you say your town in Alabama is basketball crazy, or is football still king?
IH: I would say they’re both football and basketball crazy. It was mostly football when I started out my freshman year. But after my freshman year, we made the transition from football to basketball. Now, a lot of focus has been on basketball recently because we’re really good in basketball.
TMD: Would you say basketball in the South is on the rise?
IH: Now that people are starting to see more talent coming out, I would say it’s coming through. I would say, every once in a while, there’s little segments where people would think that basketball is on the rise. But then football comes right back to dominating everything.
TMD: How does that compare to Indiana?
IH: It’s completely different. You’re talking about basketball being the king here. Then people think football is on the rise, and then it goes away. It’s the complete opposite, and was a shock when I first got here.
TMD: Did the smaller interest in basketball in Alabama affect you in terms of recruiting or playing AAU?
IH: I used to play at a local recreational center. Suddenly, this state-sponsored (AAU) team came to me and said, “Hey, why don’t you play for us!” So I played for them, then we beat an Adidas nationally-recognized team. Then they offered me to play with them, so I played with them. So then I played for Adidas. Then we beat a Nike team, and then the Nike team offered me to play with them and with their gear. I said, “Sure, of course,” because I like Nike gear and they’re the only ones who make shoes my size.
TMD: So what shoe size are you?
TMD: How do you find shoes that fit you?
IH: I actually go to a place called Friedman’s Shoes in Atlanta and they start at size 14 and go all the way up to 22. That’s where Shaq gets his shoes, and whatever he doesn’t get from a special collection or specially made, I get to look at them.
TMD: So when Shaq passes on a shoe, they hit you up to see if you’re interested in that shoe?
IH: Yeah, exactly.