Notre Dame Prep's Khem Birch made headlines last month when he confirmed to reporters that he is re-classifying to the Class of 2011 and had signed his National Letter of Intent with Pitt. But for those who aren't familiar with his game already, he will be a household name when all is said and done. The 6-foot-9, Quebec-bred Birch first made a splash last season at Winchendon, his first year in the states, and developed a reputation as an aggressive shot-blocker in helping lead the Green Wave to the NEPSAC Class A championship finals. Now 15 minutes down the road in Fitchburg, Mass., Birch is busy fine-tuning his high potential. He sat down with ESPNBoston following a preseason open gym, and a day before he initially verbally committed to Pitt, to discuss the upcoming season.
Q: What's the biggest difference you've noticed in culture, from Canada to the United States?
A: "The food. Everyone eats more fried foods. Everyone's...meaner (laughs)."
Q: You're generally regarded highly for your shot-blocking ability. What goes into developing that?
A: "I don't know, really, just timing is big. I'm naturally good at doing that, and that's something I've been good at doing for a long time now. It's just natural. I don't practice it, it just comes to me when I play."
Q: What's been the biggest motivating factor for you headed into the season?
A: "My friend (Christian Williams) passed away. I'm playing for him. And the fact that my mother's struggling a little bit now too."
Q: How close were you with Christian?
A: "I've known him since seventh grade. We were really close in middle school, and grew apart a little bit when I moved here. But, we were really close."
Q: You played with Team Canada in the Nike Global Challenge during the summer. What did you notice about the level of competition?
A: "It's way harder. Europeans play dirtier, with more elbow, way more than American players."
Q: What kind of goals have you set for yourself this season?
A: "To be a better all-around player, and to win a national championship."
Q: You're playing here with one of your former Winchendon teammates, Angel Nunez. How much of a joy is that?
A: "Very. We've been close friends for a year now, and when I heard he came to this school I was happy, because I wanted to be with somebody."
Q: What's on your iPod right now?
A: "Drake, Trey Songz, Chris Brown, The-Dream, Nikki Minaj, and that's pretty much it."
Q: When you're getting ready in the locker room, before tipoff, what's going through your head?
A: "What am I going to do in the game? And how am I going to help the team out? I usually like to listen to soft music, to cool me down."
Q: So how are your emotions?
A: "Like, I'm really laid-back. When people see me before a game, they think that I'm not ready, but believe me I am ready. I'm just laid back, to calm down."
Q: What would you say needs most improvement in your game right now?
A: "My lower-body strength, my hand, my shot, my post moves. Basically everything."