For basketball fans in the U.S., the Final Four — the semifinals and finals of the
collegiate basketball championship, which start on Saturday — is one of the
year’s top attractions. Among this year’s contenders is the University of
Kansas, a perennial basketball power. Its center, Sasha Kaun, is an imposing figure in
the computer lab as well as the basketball court.
At the start of
the season, Kaun, at 6’11" and 250 lbs (2.108 meters and 113.398 kilograms), was
the Jayhawks ‘ starting center, but now he comes off the bench where he, as MSNBC notes, "contributes points, rebounds and
blocked shots, but also does a lot of little things that don’t show up in the
In a sport where fewer star players are getting their
bachelors degrees and the term student-athlete is a running joke, Kaun is a
senior studying computer science, not your typical jock major. He excels in the
classroom; Kaun was one of two Kansas players named to this year’s Big-12 all-academic team.
story of how Kaun got to Kansas to play for one of college basketball’s top
teams is quite a tale in itself. Kaun’s family lived
in the Siberian town of Tomsk, where his father worked as a computer programmer
in a bank. Some 10 years ago, the 13 year-old Sasha Kaun came home to learn that
his father was found dead in a parking garage under mysterious circumstances
(Russian authorities call the death a suicide, which the family disputes). Kaun
still carries his late father’s picture in his wallet and credits his father
with the inspiration to study computer science.
later, Kaun heard from a friend who just graduated from the Florida Air Academy,
a private boarding school in Melbourne, Florida. The school was recruiting
students from Russia; Kaun jumped at the opportunity to come to the United
States. The school’s basketball coach recruited Kaun, who at 6’10" was the
school’s tallest student. Up to then, however, Kaun had never played more than
informal pick-up games, and did not know a word of English.
Kaun had to
learn not just English but also the basics of basketball, and then the finer
points, where size by itself means little. His hard work and long hours in the
classroom, weight room, and on the court, transformed him into a leading college
prospect, recruited by Duke and Michigan State as well as Kansas. This season,
he had to work through injuries suffered in his junior year that lowered his
point production, but Kaun still leads the team this year in field goal percentage.
immediate goal may be the national championship, his career can take any number
of routes, and computer science is high among the options.