UConn junior Thabeet entering draft

Thabeet is a two-time Big East defensive player of the year. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet has decided to give up his final year of college eligibility and enter the NBA draft.

The 7-foot-3 center from Tanzania said Tuesday that he made the decision after speaking to family, friends and coach Jim Calhoun.

"I have had a great experience at Connecticut and cannot thank my coaches and teammates enough," Thabeet said in a statement released by the school. "I look forward to the challenge of playing professionally and know that my time here at UConn has prepared me to be successful in the future."

Calhoun called Thabeet "one of the most dominant defensive players in the history of college basketball," and said he believes he is ready to make the move to the NBA.

"He is a special player and even more special as a person," Calhoun said. "He will truly be remembered as one of the great players in UConn history, not only for his accomplishments, but also because of the type of person he is."

Thabeet, the Big East co-Player of the Year with Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair, averaged 13.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.2 blocked shots per game in helping the Huskies to a 31-5 record and a Final Four berth.

He becomes the 11th player from Connecticut to declare early for the NBA draft. Nine of the others were picked in the first round, and eight of those were lottery selections.

Thabeet had been playing organized basketball for less than five years when he came to Connecticut from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, by way of the Cypress Christian School in Houston.

He considered turning pro after both his freshmen and sophomore seasons.

The school said Thabeet plans to hire an agent, a move that would eliminate the possibility that he could withdraw his name before June 15 and retain his collegiate eligibility.