When the early entry list was released by the NBA last week, Gran Canaria center Walter Tavares was the tallest player on it. At 7-foot-3, the native of Cape Verde, an archipelago near the coast of Senegal, cuts an impressive figure. His game has a lot of catching up to do, though.
Tavares only started playing basketball in 2010, when he was discovered by accident in his home country, and has a paltry 53 minutes of game experience with Gran Canaria in the Spanish ACB League up to this point… although you could say that's a pretty big deal considering he was not into sports and spent his time helping his mother sell fish and milk only three years ago.
We recently talked with the 21-year-old Tavares to find out more about his story and his goals.
How was your life in Cape Verde before heading to Spain?
Walter Tavares: It was a normal life. I helped my mother and went to school. Then I started helping my mother full-time after finishing school.
Did you experience many problems because of your height there?
WT: Yeah, we didn't have a lot of resources. There were not a lot of clothes I could wear. I had family outside of the country and they used to send me sneakers and pieces of clothing.
You have family in Portugal?
WT: Yes, I have family in Portugal and the United States too.
How did you start playing basketball?
WT: There was a German tourist in Cape Verde that was our neighbor. He asked me if I wanted to play basketball and I said I did. He told me he was going to speak with a friend that happened to work for Gran Canaria's farm teams. He came on vacation to Cape Verde and saw me there. I had a tryout in the capital of the country and that was actually my first time touching a basketball.
What did you know about basketball back then?
WT: Nothing. Well, I knew about Michael Jordan (laughs).
Is there any basketball tradition whatsoever in Cape Verde?
WT: They don't even put basketball on TV. It's just soccer.
Do you at least have basketball courts to play?
WT: There's some, but they in a sorry state.
So you get to Gran Canaria after the tryout… How are the first weeks there?
WT: It was very tough because I had never played basketball before. Running up and down the court was very hard back then, I was exhausted physically. But little by little, my stamina improved and started delivering. But I started from scratch because I knew nothing. They really taught me the very basics of the game. The coaches focused a lot on improving my coordination too. I worked Monday to Sunday. I didn't take a day off so I could improve quicker and play.
Were you on your own when you moved to Gran Canaria?
WT: Yes, I did. Actually, my family is still in Cape Verde.
You've had some injury problems during your stay in Gran Canaria. How do you feel now?
WT: I feel very good now. I don't have any injury problem at the moment. I feel great, I run a lot better. I have shoes that fit me, which was an issue in the past when it came to running because they were too small. No physical problems now, really.
You have played ACB games this season, but also in lower divisions. How do you feel about playing in one division and the other?
WT: It's so different. The ACB players are so much bigger and smarter… I never thought I would be playing with them this early. I'd rather play more minutes in the ACB, but that's difficult right now because you need experience and I'm still learning. I feel more at ease playing with the LEB Plata (third division) team, I get the ball a lot there.
What's your biggest strength as a player at this point?
WT: Anything in the paint. Face-up game, hook shots, dunks, anything that happens in the paint.
Do you watch many NBA games?
WT: Yes, I watch a lot. I like Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan.
Your name is in the draft early entry list. How did you make the decision to submit your name?
WT: I want to make myself known because they don't know me much yet. It's basically in order to be on the radar, not to go over there now as I'm still growing as a player. I think I have a lot to learn yet. Next year I'll be way more ready than this year.
So you don't think you're going to stay in the draft this year.
WT: No, I don't think so.