STORRS, Conn. -- Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet plans to return to school for his junior season instead of entering the NBA draft. The 7-foot-3 native of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was projected as a first-round pick in the draft. Thabeet averaged more than 10 points and almost eight rebounds a game as a sophomore, and ranked third in the nation with 147 blocked shots. He was the Big East's defensive player of the year, helping UConn to a 24-9 record. According to ESPN.com's Andy Katz, Thabeet would have been a first-round pick had he declared. "As a team, we took a step in the right direction this year, but I look forward to us working together to win a Big East Championship and making a run at a national championship," Thabeet said in a statement released Sunday by UConn. "I really enjoy being here, getting a great education and spending time with my friends and teammates." Thabeet, 21, has been playing organized basketball for fewer than six years. "Hasheem has made as much progress as any player I have coached in my 36 years and if he continues that incredible progress, he will help us take the next step as a team and help himself become one of the best players in college basketball," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.