Gentle Giant: African center finding joy, relief at Dawson Community College

Charles Lampten moved to U.S. at 16
Posted at 6:22 PM, Jan 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-22 11:18:46-05

GLENDIVE -- While his hands may leave remarkably giant impressions, his first basketball impressions didn't exactly attract rave reviews -- even by his own account.

"When I started playing basketball, I would say I was really, really no good at all," said Charles Lampten.

That's hard to believe considering Lampten is listed at 6-foot-11 on the Dawson Community College men's basketball roster. He barely has to jump to grab the rim.

"When I first started playing basketball, my AAU coach made me shoot over the backboard, because when I shot, I was bricking everything," Lampten laughed in an interview with MTN Sports 24 hours before Sunday's tipoff between his DCC Buccaneers and Dakota Bottineau.

It's easy to sense the 19-year-old loves to laugh, even at himself. That's because it didn't use to be that way.

Lampten grew up in Cameroon, a country on the African gulf coast. When he shot up in height as a 16-year-old roughly three years ago, classmates weren't so nice to him.

"I was getting a little picked on by other kids," Lampten recalled. "I didn't play basketball. Most of my country plays soccer, so I grew up playing soccer, too. So, I was getting bullied by my classmates, everybody."

Coincidence or fate, that's when his aunt arrived for a visit in Cameroon -- with a life-changing offer: a fresh start living with her in Dallas, Texas. After agonizing over the decision with his parents, he took the leap of faith.

"I was a little bit nervous, because I have four sisters and I left three of them back in Cameroon," Lampten said, still feeling the weight of his choice.

His fourth sister is also his own twin. She agreed to give up her life at home to help comfort him some 25 hours away by plane. She is currently in Texas attending community college.

So, at age 16, new life, new sport. Lampten was invited to join an AAU team in the Dallas area and, though very raw, that led to a scholarship offer at the two-year junior college in Glendive.

DCC men's head coach Joe Peterson was intrigued by the upside of his defensive presence.

"The number of shots that he changes? Guys that drive into the lane, and then see him there, and they have to kick it out because they know that they don't have a chance," Peterson marveled to MTN Sports in his office a couple hours before tipoff on Hall of Fame Weekend. "They're having to go up against him and score over him -- and that's not an easy thing to do."

Lampten's wing span is said to be 7 feet, 4 inches. His hands are enormous. His shoes, size 17.

Shopping for clothes to fit that frame isn't easy anywhere, let alone in Glendive. And with winter gear a must-have in Eastern Montana, Amazon quickly became Lampten's best friend.

"I bought a coat, yes," he said with both a sigh of relief and a wry smile. "I went on Amazon to get the biggest-sized jacket I could. I'm surprised I found everything on Amazon because it's really, really hard. Even the gloves I have now are huge. Every time someone tries them, they're like, 'Where did you find these gloves?' They just look so huge."

Still, Lampten confesses they're actually not 'big enough.' His fingers get stuck.

The high temperature in Glendive on this day was 5 degrees with a windchill of 16-below. By comparison, it was close to 90 degrees in Cameroon. That's just one more potential contributor to home sickness, but not the one that concerned his Buccaneers head coach.

"I was a little worried the first semester," Peterson recalled. "He had to go home because his aunt in Texas is adopting him. So, he had to go appear before a judge and so on. Just 10 days after he had got here he had to get on a Greyhound bus and ride all the way back to Texas in the middle of the school week, and then come all the way back. And I was a little worried he may not come back. You know how it is after your first week or two of college? But he was hell-bent on getting back. The whole time he was gone he was communicating with his teammates. It was amazing to me how quickly he got to know people and felt like this was home for him."

Home in Africa was playing goalie on the soccer field, even at his outrageous height. Home in America? Also protecting the goal. Only now, on a basketball court.