IUP's 7-foot-3 center Vedder keeps growing

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Indiana (Pa.) center Blake Vedder can't help but draw attention.

For one, he's 7-foot-3. For another, he's 7-foot-3.

“If we're out on a Saturday night, you just see people 20 yards away staring,” he said. “Sometimes, I'll walk up and say ‘hi.' It's just funny to catch some people off guard.”

Vedder has had too many growth spurts to remember.

“Whenever you look at my class pictures, you can always pick me out,” he said. “I was always the tallest kid in school.”

Vedder, who grew up about 20 miles east of Cleveland, first dunked as a 6-6 seventh-grader. He shot up 7 inches between his sophomore and senior years.

Now, though, Vedder's main concern is growing on the court. He barely played during two seasons at Rhode Island before transferring to Division II IUP. This season, the junior is averaging 5.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and a team-high 1.0 blocks in 14.4 minutes per game as a reserve for the 16th-ranked Crimson Hawks.

“Coach (Joe) Lombardi and I talk every week about how high my ceiling is, and if I can keep absorbing and being a sponge and taking in everything around me, I'm going to be great player when I'm through,” he said.

Vedder is the same height as the tallest active NBA player, Oklahoma City's Hasheem Thabeet. Vedder is among the tallest in college (former Kiski School star and current New Mexico State freshman Sim Bhullar is bigger at 7-5). Yet Vedder remains a work in progress.

“As strange as it may sound, he's three years out of high school, but he's really learning basics that a lot of kids pick up at good high school programs,” Lombardi said. “A lot it is fundamentals from individual defense, playing team defense. Kind of building good habits. He was missing a lot of those good habits.

“We try not to focus on where he's at. We try to find the positives and look ahead to how good he can be down the road.”

Those positives include a solid shooting touch, soft hands and better-than-expected speed — something Vedder attributes to his soccer background.

The 235-pound Vedder has shown flashes this season, including 11 points and nine rebounds in the season opener. That nearly eclipsed the 12 points and 10 rebounds he accumulated during his two seasons at Rhode Island. Although Vedder's production has waned since league play started, Lombardi said he's pleased with his progress.

“We hope to add layers on him monthly, now until the end of his career,” Lombardi said. “He has more upside than most guys, so that's the exciting part about having him in the program and coaching him.”

Jeff Vella is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jvella@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.

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