Omar Oraby is 7 feet 2 and stands up straight as a light pole. Sometimes kids who are extremely tall try to look less tall. They hunch their shoulders. They nonchalantly bend their knees.

But Oraby is proud of who he is.

He's proud of his height. He is proud to be a USC senior and well on his way to a college degree. He is proud to be a basketball player with soft hands, nifty footwork and talent that doesn't always come naturally to a big man from a country that doesn't produce many basketball players.

Most of all, Oraby is proud to be Egyptian.

When it seemed his country was crumbling last summer, when U.S. television showed Cairo as a place filled with violence and religious disagreements that were being settled by guns instead of the debate that Oraby finds fascinating in college, he went home anyway.

His Trojans basketball coach, Andy Enfield, said, "I would have preferred he stayed on campus, honestly. I just felt it would be safer, but I also would never refuse to let him go home."

Oraby went home to see his family and to see what was happening to his country. He's back, ready to be USC's starting center, ready to be a star maybe, ready, for sure, to get a degree, and maybe someday ready to go back home and be a leader.

His first love

USC forward J.T. Terrell watched Oraby play a scrimmage this fall, and afterward, after Oraby had made a spin move that resulted in a dunk and had swatted away a couple of shots, Terrell shook his head.

"I wish I was that tall and could do what he does," Terrell said.

Even in a country where soccer rules and there isn't really a close second sport, Oraby said he always loved basketball.

"It wasn't on television much, there weren't any pickup games, but the very first birthday present my brother and sister got for me by themselves, with their own money, was a basketball," Oraby said.

"I would go to a club near our house and just play every day, even if it was by myself. I'd be the guard, I'd be the forward, I'd be the center, I'd be everything. One day, when I was very young, maybe only 6 or 7, one of the coaches asked me how old I was. I told him and I don't think he believed me.

"He measured me and said I was the tallest 6-year-old he had ever seen and asked me to come back the next day to the club. I did and that was it. I was a basketball player."

Oraby tried playing soccer and volleyball, and he even experimented with swimming. But basketball was his favorite, especially as he kept growing.

By the time he was 15, Oraby said, he was playing for the Egyptian junior national team and had begun watching tape of American stars such as Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

He knew that American colleges often gave talented foreign players scholarships, scouting other African countries and in Europe to turn up hidden gems. But Egypt wasn't a place that produced stars.

"I didn't know how things worked," Oraby said. "I didn't know how to contact American colleges and I felt no one was coming to see me, but then I played in the junior world championships in New Zealand and an American coach, I'm not even sure who, started to tell people about me."

Word began to reach the U.S. about Oraby and he ended up being recruited to Rice along with another Middle Eastern player, Arsalan Kazemi of Iran. After two years, Kazemi transferred to Oregon and Oraby left for USC.

Kazemi has said publicly that he was subjected to anti-Muslim verbal abuse by an athletic official at Rice.