The Wolverine

February 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2018 BY JOHN BORTON M u h a m m a d - A l i A b d u r- Rahkman stepped to the free throw line, the game hanging in the balance. His face conveyed the deep emotion of a man hanging drywall. For hours after, the senior guard's impassive visage appeared on so- cial media, accompanied by a host of one-liners about his assassin's calm. He smoothly dropped those game- winners, the 999th and 1,000th points of his Michigan career, to pull a 68-67 win over Maryland out of the fire. The glazed-over gaze isn't an ac- cident, he insists. "My dad was in the Army," Abdur- Rahkman said. "He told me, 'You can't show how you're feeling on the outside when you're in battle.' I've always kept that and tried to be even keeled on the court." In his fourth year of steady-as-she- goes placidity, the Michigan senior carries no lack of competitive fire. He's just not going to let the masses see him sweat, or seethe. Freshman teammate Isaiah Livers backed the notion regarding the in- ternal fire of the Michigan captain. Livers went so far as to draw a com- parison between Abdur-Rahkman and former Wolverine Zack Novak. That seems a little like aligning Gandhi with Rambo, but Abdur- Rahkman understands. He admits to some animation in team huddles, and laughs over the notion that he's unmoved by normal human emo- tion. "I do get angry," he offered. "I try not to show it in my body language. It's not so much angry at other people, but angry at myself where I might make a mistake and it's some- thing I can control. I try not to get rattled. "Things are going to go back and forth. You can't let one thing affect your whole game." He doesn't, according to his father and former coach, Dawud Abdur- Rahkman. Muhammad-Ali's conver- sation easily works in "my dad was this," and "my dad said that," ac- knowledging a profound influence. There's little doubt about the root of the son's calmness of countenance during the on-court storm. "My basis for that is my military background, but in coaching, I've al- ways had a philosophy," the elder Abdur-Rahkman said. "When kids are playing and competing, they should be engaged in the game such that they always look the same. "You should not be able to tell, by your demeanor, by the look on your face, by what's going on, that you are either up by 20 or down by 20. Your disposition should be the same all the time. That way, you'll always be steady, you'll always make prog- ress, and you'll always have the best chance of winning any competition." FORMATIVE FIRE AND ADAPTATION The Michigan captain began prep- ping to coolly crush Maryland hopes long before it happened. He got used to making moves, and not just on the basketball court. He went from Allentown, Pa., to Washington, D.C., to Newport News, Va., back to D.C. and finally back to Allentown. After his parents di- vorced and the younger Abdur-Rah- kman was living in Allentown with his mother, Dawud Abdur-Rahkman made the 186-mile one-way trip to Allentown to pick him up and take him back to Washington to play for the AAU program D.C. Assault in tournaments. "Every weekend we would do this," Dawud Abdur-Rahkman re- called. "People would think I was crazy." His players thought him demand- ing and demonstrative, a highly interactive coach who always gave strong feedback immediately. "It might have made him more in- troverted on the court, because he's not like that as a person," the elder Abdur-Rahkman said of his son. "Anyone will tell you, he's very jo- vial, very comedic. But on the court, everything becomes introverted." The moves probably factored into his reserve in some off-court situa- tions, Muhammad-Ali offered. "You can't wear your emotions on your sleeve," he said. "You're the new kid on the block, so they're go- ing to pick at you. Figure out who you are and what you're about, and survive that." At that same time, he assured, he's not at all about backing down from challenges. Quite the opposite. "I'm a reactive person," he assured. "If somebody starts to talk trash or tries to hurt me, I'm going to respond back." "If you don't want him to fire off or be aggressive, don't challenge him," his father added. "Don't say anything to him. Don't give him any reason to be aggressive or upset." Dawud Abdur-Rahkman still laughs over the memory of a 15U AAU tournament at VCU, when his squad was playing a team from North Carolina. Somebody yanked his son's chain and immediately paid an embarrassing price. The very first possession of the game, Abdur-Rahkman executed one of his slashing drives to the basket, much to the chagrin of an offended defender. "The kid says to him, 'You'd bet- ter be happy, because that's the last points you're going to score,'" Dawud Abdur-Rahkman recalled. "Literally, he scored 20 straight points on the kid. His teammates were egging him on: 'Yeah Muham- mad! Give it to him!' Every time down, every possession, he scored on the kid. "It was to the point that I had to say something. 'Okay, that's enough Muhammad. You guys, shoot the ball as well. Play team basketball. That's enough!'" The quiet trigger carried through four years of all-state effort in high school and right into college. He LIKE A ROCK Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman Stays Calm In Battle Abdur-Rahkman hit a pair of free throws against Maryland with 1.2 seconds left on the clock Jan. 15 to secure a 68-67 win and reach 1,000 career points. He became the 52nd Wolverine to achieve the milestone. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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