Big Man on Campus is 7-foot-1-of-a-kind
College of Idaho junior Joe Vaz is quiet, humble and a little bit shy by nature. But as the tallest student ever to attend the C of I, he stands out everywhere his size-18 sneakers take him.
It is a paradox Vaz has lived within for virtually his entire life.
“You get noticed pretty much anywhere you go,” Vaz said. “There are days when you don’t want to be seen and you just want your space, but people are curious, so I’ve learned to answer their questions and be polite about it.”
One of the most common questions Vaz gets asked is whether he plays basketball, and the answer to that one is, emphatically, “yes.” Joe – whose 6-foot-7 mother, Mary Vaz, played collegiately at the University of Portland – began playing organized hoops when he was 4. He was an All-Avocado League selection at Rancho Buena Vista High and was named Pacific Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Palomar Community College in his native California before transferring to the C of I this year.
Through 14 games, he is averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds while making more than 60 percent of his shots for first-year coach Scott Garson.
“Joe gives us an inside presence,” Garson said. “He has great hands and shooting touch for a guy his size. But the thing I love most about Joe is that he gets more excited for his teammates’ success than for his own. He’s an unselfish guy who loves his teammates, and his teammates love him.”
One of those teammates, junior guard Josh Wilson, says Vaz has been a great addition not only for the basketball team, but for the entire campus.
“Joe is a great person, first and foremost,” Wilson said. “Walking around campus with him, it makes you feel like a celebrity because everyone knows Joe. He’s a fun person to be around – he doesn’t talk much, but when he does, he usually has something important to say.”
When he’s not on the basketball court, Vaz is studying anthropology and sociology with an eye toward a career in public service. He also enjoys learning about animals and hanging out with his teammates and roommate Brock Hulsey, a C of I football player.
“I like it here,” Vaz said. “It’s a great school academically. The teachers will talk to you if you need help, which doesn’t happen too often at the community college level. And a big difference is that everyone here is super-friendly. Walking around campus, people say “hi” a lot more than they do in California.”
Vaz’s classmates also enjoy having him around – and not just because of the advantage he gives the Coyotes on the court. Breaking through Vaz’s stoic demeanor has become a game of sorts for the basketball team, which recently surprised Vaz with a cake to celebrate his 21st birthday.
“We lit the candles and the guys sang the most boisterous ‘Happy Birthday’ you’ve ever heard,” Garson said. “They were banging on the table, shaking chairs and doing everything they could to get Joe to crack a smile. When he finally did, everyone burst out laughing because when you make Joe smile, you know you’ve done a good job.”
Conversely, making others smile comes easily for Vaz. During his first semester at the C of I, he has helped the Coyotes sweep Northwest Nazarene in the Mayor’s Cup rivalry series, posed for pictures with campus visitors and caused a stir on social media with a photo of his new crew cut – a stark contrast from the shaggy mop of hair he had previously.
Whether Vaz is blocking shots on the basketball court or striding across the Quad, he is impossible to miss.
And once you get to know Big Joe, it’s hard not to crack a smile when he passes by.