A Court Homecoming

Men’s basketball coach brings five-star work ethic to KSU

KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov 5, 2019) — As a child, Amir Abdur-Rahim brushed off a suggestion by his very first basketball coach – his father, William – that he could have a real future as a basketball coach.

“My dad would say all the time, ‘You’ll be a good coach one day,’ and I’d say, ‘No, I will not,’” Abdur-Rahim recalled. “I was a handful at 8 years old.”

Amir Abdur-Rahim
Amir Abdur-Rahim
Choosing coaching as his profession didn’t occur until Abdur-Rahim was in his second year as a graduate assistant with the Murray State basketball team while pursuing his master’s degree in organizational communication. The turning point was a conversation with assistant coach Isaac Chew.

“He said to me, ‘You could be really good at this, but you can’t have one foot in and one foot out,’” Abdur-Rahim said. “It lit a fire under me.”

What followed was 11 years as an assistant coach at five schools, during which Abdur-Rahim earned a reputation for recruiting and developing talented players. That led to his first head coaching job at Kennesaw State, which begins in earnest tonight with the Owls’ season opener at Creighton.

Coaching at KSU is a homecoming for Abdur-Rahim, who grew up in Cobb County and starred at Wheeler High School before playing collegiately at Southeastern Louisiana. He has helped other college basketball programs achieve success, but admitted it would “mean a lot more to do it at home.”

“Seeing what Kennesaw State has blossomed into, but still being able to see the potential of what it can be, is really promising,” Abdur-Rahim said. “Having the opportunity to paint the canvas the way we want to paint it is a special opportunity that we have.”

Abdur-Rahim embraces the challenge of building Kennesaw State basketball into a consistent, winning program. He has done so at his previous coaching stops, such as Murray State setting a school record for wins and Texas A&M winning its first conference championship in 30 years.

In fact, he pointed out that a template for success already exists at KSU. Before moving up to Division I, the Owls were a power in Division II, winning the national championship in the 2003-04 season.

“We want to build this program back up,” Abdur-Rahim said. “We’re not trying to do something here that hasn’t been done before. We want to do it again, but at the Division I level.”

The key, Abdur-Rahim emphasized, is to attract players to Kennesaw State who share his vision for the basketball program. That, he explained, is a team that has great attention to detail, gives their all in every game and plays a brand of basketball Owls fans enjoy.

Abdur-Rahim is encouraged that people are taking notice as he touts KSU as a place where students can receive a good education while enjoying beautiful and safe campuses in metro Atlanta. He said that “recruits have been blown away by what we have here” when he has taken them to spots such as the Carmichael Student Center, the Student Recreation and Activities Center and The Commons dining hall.

“To be able to have that type of campus and give that type of experience to a student-athlete, it’s hard to beat that,” he said. “We’re trying to get kids to understand that anything special they want to do, they can do right here.”

As part of that process, Abdur-Rahim naturally keeps an eye on the recruiting rankings that rate high school basketball players on a scale of one to five stars, with five-star recruits being the top prospects in the country.

However, Abdur-Rahim values a different benchmark as the most important quality for players to be part of his team.

“A Kennesaw State basketball player will have a five-star work ethic,” Abdur-Rahim said. “It’s about putting the right players into what you’re doing and having them as the foundation of it.”

While Abdur-Rahim envisions the Owls competing for ASUN Conference titles, playing in postseason tournaments and packing the Convocation Center with spirited crowds, his definition of success extends beyond the court.

“It means not only winning championships, but graduating our guys and making sure that they are ready to go out into the world and be productive,” Abdur-Rahim said. “We want to create professionals who will go out and be a part of the community. That’s the vision – and it’s attainable.”

To accomplish that, Abdur-Rahim pledged that the coaching staff will lead by example. He praised assistant coaches Ben Fletcher, Pershin Williams and Tanner Smith, saying that first-year head coaches don’t always have the benefit of working with such a quality staff.

“We’re committed to being the example every day for our guys of how to be men, how to conduct themselves, and how to be mentally and physically tough,” Abdur-Rahim said. “If we can make them better men, there’s no question they’ll be better players. The wins will come.”

—Paul Floeckher

Photo by KSU Athletics

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu