Abdul Malik-Abu balances July’s live-period with his fasting for Ramadan

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — For a high school basketball prospect, the July evaluation period the summer prior to their senior year is one of the most important three-week stretches of their high school career. The coaches are allowed to be on the road, evaluating and recruiting, which means that the media will be there as well, schmoozing and networking.

Simply put, everyone with an opinion that matters in college hoops will be in a gym somewhere for three consecutive weekends in the middle of July.

For marginal prospects, that’s when you set yourself apart from the thousands upon thousands of other high school hoopers and earn yourself a scholarship. For the more talented kids, that’s when you play your way onto a top 25 program instead of finding yourself an afterthought for a team struggling to break .500 in the ACC.

For Boston native and Kimball Union Academy’s rising senior Abdul Malik-Abu, the most important month of his basketball career to date will be played without eating breakfast, lunch or dinner. It will be played without the benefit of a gatorade on the sidelines. He can’t even take a sip of water after his third game of the day in a gym with air conditioning that isn’t quite keeping out the swelteringly humid, 97-degree weather.

Malik-Abu — a 6-foot-8, 235 pound forward that ranks in Rivals’ top 50 in the Class of 2014 — is muslim. And as a practicing muslim, Malik-Abu fasts during Ramadan. This year, Ramadan began on July 8th and will run through August 7th, which means that throughout the entire July evaluation period, Malik-Abu will not eat or drink between sunrise and sundown.

“I’m really tired,” Malik-Abu told NBCSports.com after his only game on Thursday in Nike’s Global Challenge, as he packed up six gatorades from the event in his backpack. “For later.”

Here’s how Malik-Abu’s schedule works during Ramadan. He stops eating and drinking at about 4:30 a.m. each morning. For the next 16 hours, he has to hope that all the food and all the water that he packed into his stomach the night before keeps him running through out the day. At 8:30 p.m., when the sun sets and he’s allowed to eat again, Malik-Abu gets his Joey Chestnut on, which sounds ideal until you think about just how hard it is to actually fit that much stuff in your stomach.

“I eat as much as I can, but you get full quick because you haven’t eaten all day,” Malik-Abu said. “Just eat in spurts and spurts and spurts and spurts, and drink a lot of water.”

“It sucks. You think, ‘Oh, I’m fasting, I can eat as much as I want,’ but you get so full. You have to force yourself to drink water, or you’re going to pass out.”

What makes Malik-Abu’s performance while fasting all the more impressive is that he’s not an overly skilled big man and he’s not the kind of guy that does his damage knocking down jumpers. He’s a bruiser. He’s as big and burly as anyone in the Class of 2014, and he’s made a name for himself as an “effort guy”. He attacks the glass, he defends around the rim, he runs the floor in transition. That takes a lot of energy, which is not something that Malik-Abu necessarily has an abundance of right now.

“It’s something I have to do,” he said, “but it’s hard.”

Perhaps more impressive is that Malik-Abu consciously made the decision to play for the Pan-African team this week, passing up a chance to play on the USA East team. Instead of going up against the mediocre big men on some of the international teams, Malik-Abu will be spending the week battling against the kind of big men that should end up making all-conference teams in high-major leagues by the time their college careers are done.

“I wanted to be different, I wanted to do something for my heritage,” Malik-Abu said. His parents are Nigerian, but they came to this country two decades before he was born.

“I don’t want to beat teams by 20. I want to go against the best players instead of be on their team.”

Finding a college campus with a muslim community for him to join is important to Malik-Abu, but it’s not a deal-breaker. He says that having a mosque close to campus would be nice — muslims pray five times a day — but that it’s all just another part of the equation, “not the answer to the problem”.

“It’s not something I’m going to seek out, but if there’s one present, and the coach uses that as his pitch, it’s definitely going to help,” he said. “Not every campus is going to have it. I’m not going to limit myself. I’m going to go to the school that’s the best fit, and if they happen to have a muslim community that I could be a part of, then that’s that fine.”

Malik-Abu even said that his faith hasn’t been a major topic of conversation in much of his recruitment, which is down to 10 or 11 schools “on a mental note”, but that he’s not ready to officially trim his list.

“I don’t try to market it, I just try to play through,” he said, “and if they’re like, ‘what’s wrong, you’re not looking like yourself’, I’ll tell them I’m fasting.”

But here’s the thing: despite being 10 days into a month-long fast, Malik-Abu has looked like himself.

So what happens when he actually can eat?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 1 Kansas dominates No. 4 Purdue in style

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Kansas, the top-seeded team in Midwest region, didn’t just beat No. 4 Purdue, it did so in style. Fast break after fast break, dunk after dunk, the Jayhawks ran the Boilermakers off the floor, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 win on Thursday night in Kansas City.

Kansas went on an 11-0 run in the second half, forcing four Purdue turnovers during that stretch. Once the Boilermakers finally got back on the board, the Jayhawks led 69-56. That run broke open the game en route to the 32-point victory.

Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham each had 26 points. Mason added seven rebounds and seven assists. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan ended his season — and perhaps, his college career — with 18 points and seven rebounds.

Kansas advances to play No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

WATCH: LaGerald Vick’s 360 dunk

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It takes a lot of confidence to throw down a dunk better suited for pre-game lay-up lines than the middle of a NCAA Tournament game.

But Kansas sophomore guard LaGerald Vick thought this breakaway opportunity in the second half of a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 4 seed Purdue was the perfect time to throw down a 360 dunk.

Jordan Mathews three sends No. 1 seed Gonzaga past No. 4 West Virginia

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Jordan Mathews hit a three with less than a minute left and West Virginia missed a pair of threes on the final possession of the game as No. 1 seed Gonzaga won a dogfight, 61-58, over No. 4 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

Mathews, who finished with 13 points on the night, spent 4:30 on the bench before checking into the game right before hitting the eventual game-winning three. It came on a possession fitting of this game, which was the embodiment of the mantra ‘a close game is not always a good game.’ Nigel Williams-Goss, who played arguably his worst game as a member of the Zags, turned the ball over immediately after gathering a defensive rebound. But West Virginia’s Nathan Adrian had a shot blocked at the rim and, after corralling the loose ball, Williams-Goss found Mathews open in the wing for a three that put the Zags up 60-58 with 37 seconds left.

What’s going to be talked about after this game is the final possession for West Virginia.

Jevon Carter, who finished with 21 points and who, prior to that final possession, continued to hit big jumper after big jumper for the Mountaineers, airballed a three and, after West Virginia gathered the rebound, threw up another tough three that bounced off the front rim. West Virginia again got the loose ball, and after Carter dribbled 15 seconds off the block, he gave the ball up to Daxter Miles, who didn’t have enough time to get the shot off:

That possession is going to haunt Carter for a long, long time, and West Virginia was rightfully criticized for the way that they “executed” on that possession — I wonder if Bob Huggins regrets not saving a timeout for the end of the game — but it’s impossible to criticize West Virginia without also mentioning that Gonzaga’s defense was as good as it gets.

Not just just on that possession, either.

The Zags made life difficult for West Virginia all night long, and that should not come as a surprise to anyone that has been paying attention to this Gonzaga team. West Virginia shot 26.7 percent from the floor. They were 5-for-23 from three, and if it wasn’t for the 20 offensive rebounds they grabbed — more than the 16 field goals they made on the night — Gonzaga would have walked out of the SAP Center with a comfortable win. They are, quite literally, the best defensive team in college basketball, according to KenPom, and they made the plays they needed to make down the stretch to get the win. That’s what championship-caliber teams do.

And if you still don’t believe that Gonzaga can win a national title this season, than I’m not sure what else you need to see.

West Virginia was a terrible matchup for Gonzaga. Their guards, as good as they’ve been all season long, are not cut out for playing against a back court that is that much tougher, that much quicker, that much more aggressive and that much more athletic than them. Williams-Goss, who was a second-team NBC Sports All-American, was exposed. He finished the evening 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and just a single assist before finding Mathews for the game-winning three. As a team, Gonzaga turned the ball over 16 times. Josh Perkins didn’t even get a shot off. Silas Melson was 2-for-7 from the floor. Throw in Zach Collins, who had just a single point, and four of Gonzaga’s top seven players were flat out bad on Thursday night.

That was, unequivocally, a game played the way West Virginia wanted it to be played. The Mountaineers controlled the game.

And yet, Gonzaga is still headed to the Elite 8, one game — against the winner of No. 2 Arizona and No. 11 Xavier — away from the right to go to the Final Four.

The knock on this Gonzaga team was their toughness, both physical and mental. Would they be able to handle a team that plays the way that West Virginia plays? Would they be able to handle the game pressure of playing to the final possession in the Sweet 16?

The answer is yes.

That doesn’t mean Gonzaga is going to win the national title.

But they are certainly good enough to get it done.

No. 3 Oregon advances after thriller with No. 7 Michigan

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Oregon is returning to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season following a thrilling, 69-68, victory over No. 7 Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City on Thursday night.

In a game in which neither team could fully grasp control of the game, it came down to the wire. Michigan held a 3-point lead with two minutes to play. Jordan Bell, who was unquestionably the deciding factor in this contest, came up with the first of several critical hustle plays down the stretch. He knifed in on a missed free throw, for the second-chance bucket, cutting the deficit to one.

On the ensuing Michigan possession, Bell didn’t block it but affected Derrick Walton Jr.’s shot enough to force the miss. Tyler Dorsey, the other hero for the Ducks, continued his stellar play this month with a go-ahead layup after he spun through the Wolverine defense. Bell’s close out on D.J. Wilson sent his 3-point attempt way off the mark. Bell would corral another offensive rebound on the other end of the floor, and while Dylan Ennis left the door open for Michigan following another missed free throw, Bell, deservedly, rebounded Walton’s miss as time ran out.

“Do whatever you can to win,” Bell told reporters after the game. “Me, get every rebound, offense or defense, help my team out as much as possible.”

Bell had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tyler Dorsey poured in 20 points. Walton Jr., who front-rimmed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, ended his collegiate career with stat-line of 20 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Zak Irvin added 19.

Dillon Brooks is without a doubt the star, but Bell and Dorsey round out a big three that could lead the Ducks to Phoenix.

Before the start of the Pac-12 Tournament championship game on March 11, Oregon announced that Chris Boucher would miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. How would this effect Oregon’s defense days before it began its quest for a Final Four?

Bell has helped answer those questions on Thursday night. He’s a big reason why Oregon outscored Michigan, 34-16, in points in the paint. But his greatest impact was how he slowed down the two-headed monster of Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson, two forwards whose increased production is a big reason why Michigan’s unlikely run extended into the second weekend of the tournament. The duo scored a combined 19 points off 7-of-20 shooting.

The other for Oregon was the continued offensive tear of Dorsey. In six postseason games, the sophomore two-guard is averaging 23.0 points per game. He went toe-to-toe with Walton, who was playing as good as any guard in the country, in the final minutes and got the better of the battle. Playing at this level, Oregon has another go-to scorer, one who has no issue taking a big shot late in the game. In either matchup in the next round, that should come in handy. Dillon Brooks, one of college’s toughest matchups, will either be busy with Purdue’s massive frontline or locked in an all-out war with Kansas’ Josh Jackson the perimeter.

“I’m really fortunate to have Jordan for three years and Tyler for two and Dillon Brooks,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “We’ve just been really fortunate. We’ve got good players and guys that are unselfish. They want to win. They’re competitive. We got down four there and guys could have gave into it. They didn’t. They fought their way back. Shows you what kind of competitive spirit they’ve got.”

The Ducks, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, will face the winner of top-seeded Kansas and No. 4 Purdue on Saturday night at the Sprint Center.

“We know Purdue is really big and Kansas is Kansas,” Altman said.

WATCH: Steve Alford end practice with half-court shot

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford ended practice on Thursday by drilling a half-court shot on the first attempt.

According to the Associated Press, this has been a season-long battle between the UCLA coaching staff and the players.

“Truth be told, we’ve been getting slaughtered. We’ve got guys like Lonzo (Ball) literally takes a jump shot from the timeline. We were just lucky that they only got one shot at it. I think coaches are down about eight on the half-court shots this year. I told them, though, that the coaches are ahead at the Sweet 16. I don’t think they’re buying it.”

No. 3 seed UCLA is set to play No. 2 seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Memphis. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats, 97-92, in a non-conference matchup on Dec. 3.