The air up there: Vikings' seven-footer sees success for Western basketball
Jan. 16, 2010
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
by Ben Fletcher, Sports Desk - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Most people rarely sniff this altitude, save when they're standing on wobbly chair, hanging a picture or putting that box of holiday decorations back up in the garage rafters.
But Dave Vanderjagt lives life at 7-feet - 24-7. The view's different up there, too.
"If anyone's balding, then I'll know about it," joked Vanderjagt, who displayed a pretty good sense of humor during a recent phone interview.
Of course, the more practical use for Vanderjagt's physical gifts involves playing basketball for the 19th-ranked Western Washington University men's team, which boasts a 15-2 record, including a 2-1 Great Northwest Athletic Conference mark, entering a 7 p.m. home game against Alaska Fairbanks on Saturday, Jan. 16.
Even before he reached the Western campus prior to his junior season after transferring from the University of Montana, Vikings coach Brad Jackson had to have been giddy with visions of Vanderjagt's big body and lengthy limbs clogging up the interior, blocking shots, rebounding and providing a scoring spark.
At 7 feet, Vanderjagt is Western's tallest player - ever.
He'd probably rather be known, though, as ably filling out the Vikings' starting line up after an injury ended Michael Duty's season after just a few games.
Vanderjagt, now a senior center, easily leads the team in blocks with 21, shoots 78.3 percent from the free-throw line and is averaging 6.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in 20-1/2 minutes per game.
"I don't know. I guess it's different to what everybody else sees," Vanderjagt said of his unique perspective. "It's kind of nice in basketball, because I can see over everybody else and pretty much see everything."
On the court, the native of Townsville, Australia, looks tall.
Off the court and away from players like teammate Zach Bruce, who stands a healthy 6-8, Vanderjagt is impossible to ignore.
A typical day in the life of this 7-footer?
"Everybody notices me, and I definitely stick out in a crowd," he said.
The on-court pluses?
"It helps me get my shot off over guys," he said.
"My girlfriend can't lose me when we go somewhere."
Vanderjagt said high heels serve as the great equalizer for his 5-6 girlfriend.
Footwear, however, isn't so easy to come by for the 7-footer. The size-17 basketball kicks he gets from his coach go with the basketball gear that he said he usually wears. For other shoes, it's online at Web sites like eBay.
Basically, Vanderjagt can't normally just walk into a store to shop for clothing apparel, but that's not the biggest inconvenience to being so tall.
"It makes it tough buying jeans, but the worst thing is flying actually," Vanderjagt said. "If I don't get the exit row, it's the most uncomfortable experience of my life. My knees are up around my neck at all times."
At least every concert he attends comes with a perfect view of the stage.
"It's good for me, I don't know about the people behind me," he said.
Vanderjagt knew early on he'd be taller than most, and thereby destined to be called upon to hang pictures and other stuff in high places.
His dad is 6-8, while his mom is 5-10.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm the man for that sort of stuff," Vanderjagt said. "But it's good at home because my dad is tall, too, so my mom's not calling on me too much."
Basketball was an early calling, too. His dad played professionally in Australia, and his brother Greg, who also measures in at 7-feet tall, also plays professionally. Vanderjagt's sister plays basketball at the University of Wyoming, too.
Back home, Vanderjagt was no slouch, either. A premiere high school player, his list of accomplishments is lengthy and includes being selected to the 2004 Australian U-19 Youth Olympic Team, which won a gold medal.
Vanderjagt, a general studies major, hopes to return to Australia - "Where I'm from, it's hot and it's tropical. It's beautiful." - and follow his father and brother's footsteps by playing professional ball.
But first, he has unfinished business to attend to here at Western, where the men's basketball team has been picking up victories at a scorching pace.
"I just want to finish out this year with a national championship," Vanderjagt said. "That's the main goal right now."
And as a player, he continues to do what he can to reach that goal.
"I think I've been getting better every game, just getting more confident in myself and doing the things I know I'm able to do," Vanderjagt said. "Hopefully I can continue to get better."
Plus, a national championship would be a pretty sweet title to go along with the distinction as being the tallest player to ever don a Vikings' basketball uniform.
Unfortunately, that's it. Reaching 7-feet, though in fairly exclusive company, didn't come with any kind of membership in a ritzy club with exciting perks.
"No I wish," Vanderjagt said. "I've been pushing for a disabled sticker so I can get the nice parking spot."
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