Navigating the world isn’t easy for 7-footers.
Those everyday conveniences that many take for granted — the height a chair seat rises from the floor, the amount of legroom in planes and automobiles, the length of a bed — are only a few of the nuisances that the vertically supreme must confront.
“Probably the worst is doorways,” said Josh Sharma, a 7-foot, 215-pound junior at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill. “Just having to remember to duck under all of them.”
But on the basketball court, the advantages of standing 7-feet-tall are limitless.
The 18-year-old Lexington resident suspected he would be tall. His father, Jayant, is 6-foot-4, his mother, Henrietta, measures 5-foot-11, and his 20-year-old twin brothers, Matthew, a junior at Swarthmore who played basketball his first two years, and Benjamin, a junior at Wheaton College, are each 6-foot-6. But reaching the 84-inch plateau surpassed what even he was expecting.
“You know when you’re young and they tell you how tall you’re going to be? They thought I was going to be 6-1 , 6-3,” Sharma said. “Seven feet was not really . . . I didn’t see it coming until I got here.”
He spent much of his childhood playing baseball, not the sport that has yielded him 11 Division 1 college scholarship offers, including from Boston College, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Oklahoma State, and Wisconsin.
It was not until seventh grade that he first attempted organized basketball. He was subsequently cut from the Diamond Middle School team. A year later, Sharma made the squad.
In his first year at Lexington High, Sharma played on the freshman team before being elevated to junior varsity midway through the season. As a sophomore, he made the varsity roster but his playing time was limited.
“You could tell at that point that he was a kid who was very athletic and was growing into his body, and still trying to figure out how his body moved,” said Lexington coach Reggie Hobbs, now in his fourth season. “I knew when he was here, and I think everybody realized when he was here, that he was scratching the surface of what his potential could be.”
Aided by a 5-inch growth spurt — which took him from 6-foot-3 as an eighth-grader to 6-8 by the end of his freshman year — Sharma immersed himself in basketball.
“Joshua, by that point, was very interested in basketball,” said his mother. “I think a lot of that had to do with him being so incredibly tall; he realized that basketball was a sport that he could excel in if he put his mind to it.
“And he was also being told that he was so tall that his strike zone was so huge playing baseball that [his height] was becoming more of a liability.”
During a summer basketball showcase in Mansfield between his sophomore and junior years, Sharma began to more fully understand his potential as a player.
“I dropped him off because his brother was at Wheaton [and] I went to go visit,” said Jayant Sharma. “Then, all of a sudden, I came back at the end of the day and everyone is coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘Oh, we’d like Josh to try out for our AAU team,’ and ‘Have you thought about prep school?’ ”
After his parents’ shock subsided at the prospect of Sharma leaving the Lexington school system — from which their two older sons had graduated — and repeating his sophomore year, they visited 10 schools. Throughout the process, Sharma took the initiative, something that impressed his parents.
Eventually he settled on Northfield Mount Hermon because of its combination of high academics and basketball
He also gradually found his way into the Mass Rivals program. The highly competitive Amateur Athletic Union team, coached by Vincent Pastore, who teaches mathematics at Central Catholic High, boasts alumni that include Noah Vonleh (Haverhill), a freshman at Indiana, and Notre Dame sophomore Zach Auguste (Marlborough).
In his two seasons at NMH and with Mass Rivals, Sharma’s game evolved. He also started turning heads.
“His athleticism is way beyond the typical 7-foot athlete,” said NMH coach John Carroll, who has had four 7-footers in his 13 years at the helm. “It’s just explosion. He’s just at a different level; he’s a pro. He has the highest upside probably of anyone I’ve ever coached.
“Josh does things that only he is thinking about,” Carroll continued. “One of the first times he was in our gym as a sophomore, he came in and it looked like . . . he would go up and make a righty layup. But he extended and turned it into a reverse dunk. It was something that no one else I’ve ever coached could pull off.”
Sharma, who averaged 8.5 points, five rebounds, and nearly two blocks per game this past season for the Hoggers, has repeatedly wowed teammates with a series of jaw-dropping, highlight-reel slam dunks. They often leave everyone in the gym shaking their heads in disbelief.
“I don’t see anyone ever doing those types of things,” said NMH teammate A.J. Brodeur, a 6-foot-8 sophomore from Northborough. “I’ve seen more dunks in person here than I’ve ever seen in my life; dunks that I would never ever imagine seeing with my eyes, even on TV.”
Sharma has also added a 3-point shot to his repertoire, something that he acknowledged often surprises the unsuspecting opponent.
Yet the flamboyance with which he finishes at the rim and the ferocity with which he competes on the court do not embody his personality.
While he openly embraces being the big guy around the sprawling NMH campus — Carroll insists Sharma has “the best posture of any kid [he has] ever coached” — Sharma is known as an intellectually curious and friendly individual with a relentless work ethic. And though at times he can be goofy, he is also mature beyond his years.
Basketball has, in many ways, helped Sharma develop personally.
Pastore, who first started working with Sharma when he sat on the bench at Lexington, can attest to this growth.
“We did a lot of one-on-ones during open gyms at Reading,” Pastore said.
“He began to shoot the ball from the perimeter, something I encourage with all my bigs. And he started to believe he could actually be good at this game, which I think was really his issue before. I think it is with every big kid because the thing is with big kids, until you find out your height can really help you do something in life, you look at it like a disadvantage.”
More official college visits loom for Sharma beyond the one he took to Wisconsin last fall.
And given his high academic standing — Sharma has a 3.4 grade point average and excellent standardized test scores — there will undoubtedly be additional scholarship offers from NCAA programs.
For now, however, Sharma is enjoying unearthing his basketball potential in only his sixth year playing and trying to exceed the high projections scouts and coaches associate with talents of his size.
“He does well with the expectations,” said Collin McManus, a 6-foot-10 junior teammate from Bedford, N.H., who is Sharma’s roommate. “People are always looking for more. And I think he’s always been able to provide more. He’s still going up. His stock seems to still be rising.
“At his height and with his athleticism — which I think is the big key — he can go as far as he wants to. It’s really up to him.”