Tallest Dreams on the Team

The most striking trait of Shagari Alleyne is his height, as is obvious to anyone who has ever passed him on UK's campus or watched him keep the rim company during UK's basketball games. If you've had the opportunity to speak with him, however, his height is less impressive than the friendliness he exudes. Not to mention the fact that he's articulate, smart and introspective.

Alleyne has as much in his head as he does in his shoes, which happen to be a rare size 21. His versatility is exposed in his hobbies off the court, which include writing. Alleyne enjoys creating poems, stories, articles and he says, "anything I've got on my mind, I write about it." Will he be the latest UK player to publish his works? Maybe. "Later on down the line. Right now I've got to keep myself in perspective and keep my main focus, which is basketball and education."

Not only can he play ball and write, Alleyne can gain weight like a champ. Over the summer he put on 10 pounds to satisfy the expectations of his coaches and the league. "[Gaining weight] was pretty easy. I had strength and conditioning, and my coaches told me to eat everything under the sun." Lucky him. "It was kind of a unique situation where I was gaining weight and I wasn't getting scolded for it."

Coach Smith is proud of his performance thus far. "He's much stronger, and with strength comes confidence. He has put on a few pounds, and that has helped him become more aggressive and more strong," said Smith at a press conference on Friday before the Indiana game.

Alleyne also learns from past experiences. Playing for Rice High School in New York, Alleyne came up against St. Raymond's High School in the New York Diocesean Finals. It was there that a miracle happened, and not in his favor. Gavin Grant, a 6-7 forward, received springs on his feet from Olympus and was able to block the shot of the 7-3 Alleyne. Grant now plays for North Carolina State. When asked if Grant could block his shot again Alleyne answered confidently, "No way. That block he got was one of the luckiest blocks I've ever seen. That's once in a lifetime." No one below seven feet can argue that. "If we play NC State, it won't happen again."

For all his talents and interests, Alleyne is still like most college kids when it comes to music; he loves it. "I listen to a lot of things. My favorite artist is Jay-Z. I'm very versatile - Maroon 5, Jay-Z, R&B. You've got to broaden your horizons." How much bigger can your horizons get when you're the tallest player to ever play for UK? For Alleyne, pretty big.

"He's really coming on and getting more and more confidence as he plays. If we can get that type of play out of him… I'm really impressed with the way he's improved," Coach Smith said.

No matter how great a player he is, or will be, his focus is still on winning the game, not making highlights. His birthday wish, which he'll be making on January 14th, is not to be named MVP of the Georgia game the following day. Instead, he says with a smile that "to beat Georgia would be my post-birthday present."

While he and the UK team are taking care of that birthday wish, fans across the bluegrass are cheering Alleyne on. Admirers spare no creative expense when they root for him. Alleyne enthusiasts at the IU game made T-shirts in his honor and signs appeared stating that you (C)an't (B)eat (S)hagari. He also has fan-created web sites, and three groups on the university craze known as thefacebook.com were made in his honor. Less tangible but more impressive is fans' excitement and elation every time they see Alleyne's tall frame, whether it's on campus, around Lexington or in Rupp Arena. With a 7-3 body and character in equal proportion, Shagari Alleyne deserves and receives nothing less than a roaring, heartfelt applause each time he enters a game.

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