The numbers “7” and “5” next to Sim Bhullar’s name on the New Mexico State roster might look like a typo, but Brandon Ashley can assure you the height is correct.
Ashley, a forward for the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats, faced the Aggies’ big big man on the high-school recruiting circuit.
“Man,” Ashley said. “He’s 7-5. All of it. He’s big and talented.”
There’s more evidence on Kevin Pangos’ Instagram account. The Gonzaga guard posed next to his Canadian friend, with the top of his head not even reaching Bhullar’s shoulder.
And Pangos is 6-foot-2.
“You’re a shrimp,” one of Pangos’ commenters noted.
Bhullar is so big that he might remind McKale Center fans of, well, nobody. There was Cal’s 7-3 Max Zhang in recent years and, back in the early 1980s, a Russian team that played an exhibition at McKale with a giant center but …
“He’ll be the biggest player that’s come into McKale in a long, long time,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “Maybe in its history.”
Size is only one reason Bhullar has a different story to tell. In a brief interview Tuesday, after the Aggies bused to Tucson, he told part of it:
Bhullar — who averages 9.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.4 blocks a game — was born in Toronto to parents who emigrated from Punjab, a state in the northwest of India. Bhullar said his parents left Punjab for better opportunities in Toronto, where his father now owns a gas station.
The family lives among a sizable Punjabi population in Toronto, the biggest city in a country that has an estimated 1.1 million Punjabi speakers. Punjabi is so entrenched in the local culture, in fact, that there is even a “Hockey Night in Canada” game broadcast in Punjabi every week.
“It’s a multicultural place,” Bhullar said. “There’s people from all over.”
His gene pool is stacked
Bhullar’s father, who participated in a form of wrestling in Punjab, is 6-4 and his mother is 5-10. Bhullar knows there’s some other genetics at hand, too.
“The great grandpa on my dad’s side was 6-8,” he said. “I didn’t think I would be so tall. I was always a couple of inches taller than other kids.”
Of course, he played hockey
Bhullar is a Canadian, after all. But as a 6-8 eighth-grader, he said, basketball started becoming fun.
Even though Canadian youth basketball has gained significant momentum in recent years, Bhullar played two years of high school ball in Pennsylvania and another at powerhouse Huntington (W.Va.) Prep.
“I left for baskeball reasons, pretty much. I thought I had a chance to play beyond high school, and back then there weren’t many players in Canada.”
He’s shedding pounds
While many extremely tall basketball players struggle to gain bulk, Bhullar has another problem: He’s 360 pounds, and that’s after conditioning work since arriving at NMSU before last season.
“That’s one of the biggest things I tried to do over the summer. I just hung out on the track and went running. Somedays it was hot, but you try to get up early in the morning.”
He’s not homesick
Having lived in the United States for three years before arriving in Las Cruces, N.M., Bhullar has become used to living away from home. And even finding a good bite to eat isn’t all that difficult — at least if he’s willing to drive 45 minutes.
“There’s a couple of Indian places in El Paso. They’re not so bad.”