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Kiski School's Bhullar brothers drawing attention of D-I programs

| Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010

Playing for the Kiski School basketball team the other night, Sim Bhullar's size-22s frequently remained rooted to the floor, yet he still scored, rebounded and blocked shots with relative ease. Sometimes, energy conservation means not jumping if you don't have to.

A 17-year-old junior, Bhullar is listed at 7-foot-4 on the team roster. "But he may be bigger," said his coach, Daryn Freedman.

Bhullar, who weighs about 295 pounds, towered over his Imani Christian defender, Alonzo Murphy. At 6-8, the well-muscled Murphy himself dwarfs most of humankind. Here he resembled a tug boat trying to ram an aircraft carrier, as players of Bhullar's bulky stature once were called, before the game changed.

Still, Murphy, who is on the recruiting radar of a few NCAA Division I schools, was not intimidated. He used his experience and quickness to poke the ball from Bhullar's hands and knock passes away. He even got a piece of a shot. But his efforts led to foul trouble. Offensively, he challenged Bhullar and made a few baskets. Other attempts were swatted way.

Murphy has played against Bhullar before, in AAU competition, "but every time, it's a new challenge," he said, still breathing hard after Kiski's 73-42 win. "Every time. He's strong, man. Both of 'em."

Both• Did such a taxing experience cause the onset of double-vision• Almost. As if Bhullar's supersized presence isn't enough to contend with, he has a younger brother, Tanveer, a sophomore listed at 7-2. But that's old news; Freedman thinks he has sprouted to 7-3, and weighs about 275. He is 15.

"I think they're both still growing," Freedman said. "That's the crazy thing."

The Toronto-born Bhullar boys are not the only Kiski players luring college recruiters to the 122-year-old boarding school located in rustic Saltsburg, about 35 miles east of Pittsburgh. Stefan Jankovic, a wiry 6-10 junior also from Toronto, likely has more skills and polish, at least for now. But Sim and Taveen occupy rare air, in every sense. They are huge, they can play and they are different.

Leaving home

Their father, Avtar, who owns a gas station, and mother, Varinder, emigrated to Toronto from India more than 20 years ago. Sim and Tanveer have a chance to become the first players of such heritage to make a splash in big-time college basketball and perhaps beyond. Asked about his goals, Sim said, "I just want to finish high school, get to college and play basketball and, if I can, get to the NBA."

It's the same story for Tanveer. But for all that to happen, the first step was out the door like their older sister, Avneet, who studies law in England.

"My mom wanted us to pursue basketball and education in America," said Sim.

Kiski has six Canadians on its roster (compared with four players from Pennsylvania), and its import policies are not unique.

"Everyone goes away from Toronto to prep school (in the U.S.) to face better competition," Tanveer said.

The family picked Kiski, which has 210 students, all boys, over such heralded private schools as DeMatha Catholic and Montrose Christian. Kiski is a pricey ($38,100) institution with a strong academic tradition and a sports history that produced two-time Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bob Mathias, Notre Dame quarterback Harry Stuhldreher — one of the legendary Four Horsemen — and Penn State football stars Curtis Enis and Darryl Clark. Freedman said the brothers are receiving need-based financial aid.

The 350-acre school was not known much for basketball.

But Freedman, in his second year, is trying to change that. A high-energy 34-year-old, he has the resume and drive to help get the brothers and their teammates to their destinations.

Among several stops. the well-traveled Freedman worked with Kentucky coach John Calipari for eight years in college and the pros and assisted Ron Everhart at Duquesne before leaving to coach a top-level AAU program and run a showcase camp for prospective college players. He also has a law degree.

Freedman, in his second year at Kiski, is committed to placing his players in top-flight college programs. Unfettered by typical guidelines, he has an 18-man varsity roster and a schedule of 50-plus games against prep schools, public schools, college junior varsities and a junior college.

"We're a prep school, a boarding school," he said. "To get competition for our kids, sometimes you have to go different routes."

This weekend's route took the team to Connecticut to a big prep school tournament attended by hundreds of college scouts.

Big improvement

Helping pave the road from a Canadian metropolis to rural Pennsylvania was Joe Lewandowski, a former Slippery Rock star and Butler High School coach who works with a Toronto youth center instructing what he calls "high-potential kids." The brothers' mom first brought Sim into the gym during the summer of 2009.

"I thought he was a little bit out of shape, but he just had a really high ceiling,' " Lewandowski recalled.

Not to mention that his head was practically scraping the ceiling.

Lewandowski went to work, teaching, honing, refining. Tanveer soon came along, too. After waiting for Tanveer to graduate from high school, the parents sent them both off to all-boys Kiski, and a regimen comprised mainly of books and basketball.

"My mom really liked that it was a boarding school, and the teachers were all on campus, whenever you needed them," said Sim, whose name is short for Gursimren. "Sometimes, I got homesick, but I got used to it."

Sim said they get their height from a paternal grandfather who stood 6-8. The brothers are polite and soft-spoken around strangers. Tanveer is more garrulous. "I like to talk," he said. Freedman said when Sim showed up, he weighed close to 400 pounds and could barely get up and down the floor. Now, "the only time Sim gets mad is when I take him out," Freedman said.

Freedman said both have improved markedly since they arrived. He said Sim's strengths, other than his size, are his soft hands, shot-blocking ability and inside scoring. Tanveer, said Freedman, can shoot. "He has unbelievable perimeter skills," he said. "But he needs to mature physically and mentally on the court. When things go wrong, he pouts. Then again, he's 15."

Conditioning remains an issue with both. "Sim is still growing into a pro-type body," Freedman said. "He's still a good year and a half away, minimum."

Even Sim agreed he needs to avoid playing down to the level of his opponent, as he did against Imani, a small, public-school team that played aggressively. "He can't only play hard when he's challenged," Freedman said.

Sim impressed scouts playing for Canada's junior national team in Texas last summer, and said he has received genuine offers from Pitt and West Virginia, among others. Those remain his first two choices, "but things could change," he said. Freedman said Tanveer has received a solid offer from Seton Hall. But the process is just starting.

ESPN senior basketball recruiting analyst Dave Telep said Sim, who is closer than his brother to his college decision, must pay close attention to the programs that suit his game and style. No longer is this a big man's game. Low-post centers, the "aircraft carriers" of yore, have given way to sleeker, faster craft.

"He has a unique value to someone who values super-bigs," Telep said. "He can't make a decision based on looking at the front of the jersey. He has to go to a place with a track record of using guys like that. Not everyone in the Top 25 is gonna be attracted to him. College basketball in 1985 is not what the game is today."

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