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Hopes of Hannaryz riding on Abdul-Rauf


The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with players in the bj-league. The league’s fifth season begins on Saturday. Guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the expansion Kyoto Hannaryz is the subject of this week’s profile.

Position: Guard

Age: 40

Ht: 183 cm

Wt: 73 kg

Hometown: Gulfport, Miss.

College: LSU

Noteworthy: The Denver Nuggets made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft and he played nine seasons in the NBA (Nuggets, Kings, Grizzlies). He averaged 14.6 points per game in his NBA career, which ended in 2001. He has since played in Italy, Russia, Greece and Saudi Arabia. As a college superstar, he averaged 30.2 ppg as a freshman, 29.0 ppg as a sophomore and then turned pro. After converting to Islam, he changed his name in 1993. He was previously known as Chris Jackson.

How have you felt physically and mentally in preparation for the upcoming season?

You know, I feel great and I’m not just saying that. I am 40 years old and it’s just a blessing to still be able to compete at this level. I pride myself in staying in shape as best as I can. In the offseason, I practice twice a day and try to watch what I eat. . . . So far, so good.

What goals have you set for yourself for the upcoming season?

Well, the goals that I usually set are for the most part general — to maintain my health, to maintain my mental focus throughout the year, and not just to maintain it but to continuously build on it and be able to transfer it to other players who may be struggling in that regard, like younger players.

I try to be the best example I can be on and off the court. I want to win all of them (games). For me, my attitude is always to seek perfection and at least if you don’t reach that at least you achieve excellence.

As an elder statesman of this brand new team, do you feel like an assistant coach out there?

I think all players, as the saying goes, should be an extension of the coach, so I guess if you look at it that way, of course.

Yeah, coach (David) Benoit and I talked before I came here and we had long conversations. I said, “Look man, whether you need me to play 40 minutes or 10, just let me know and I’ll try to accommodate you as best as I can.”

Can you describe your mind-set as a basketball player?

I try to be in attack mode when I step onto the court. I don’t want anybody to just give me open looks all game long or play mediocre defense against me. Bring it to me. That’s the way I like to approach it.

Do you feel there’s extra

pressure for you to be the go-to guy on this team, considering the fact you’ve played in the NBA and this is a first-year franchise?

I don’t feel that at all on this team. Coach Benoit and (assistant) coach (Kazuto) Aono have made it clear they want everybody to be successful. Of course, we know that on certain nights some guys are going to be hotter than other guys, that’s just how the game fluctuates.

I can be hot in the first quarter, somebody else might get hot, and then I might be hot again in the fourth quarter.

Everything ends up in a triangle (our offense). If we run the right plays, you can have balanced scoring across the board night in and night out.

Among the Hannaryz’s Japanese players, which players have the best long-term potential to be standouts in the bj-league?

I see some good things in (point guard Naoto) Takushi. He’s got some nice court awareness. When he gets a guy on his hip, he knows how to keep him there and finishes well when he does that.

(Point guard/shooting guard) Jun (Iwasa) is tough defensively. He works hard. He’s a great plus for us as well.

How did you find out about the possibility of playing for the Hannaryz?

Coach Benoit and I knew a mutual friend (an agent) and he was calling me. I was trying to get a deal somewhere else. Coach Benoit was, of course, coaching in Japan and we ended up talking. I told him, of course, man, if a deal doesn’t come through before then, I’d love to come. . . . He was consistent in calling me last year (when he coached the Saitama Broncos).

Have you received a new nickname from Kyoto players and fans?

They said they were having problems pronouncing my name, so I told them to call me “Mah,” short for Mahmoud.

What’s the greatest compliment you’ve ever received as a player?

He’s a great player but he’s even a better person than a basketball player. For me, that’s even more important.

Who said that?

Dale Brown (his coach at LSU).

Are you an avid follower of the NBA nowadays?

No. Even when I was playing, I really wasn’t an avid follower, definitely not now. The game for me is not the same for me as when I came out.

Honestly, I think in some cases it’s watered down. I don’t think the skill level is where it used to be. I was fortunate to come through the league when Magic (Johnson), (Larry) Bird and Joe Dumars played, and I played against Dale Ellis when nailing down the jump shot, hitting free throws, setting guys up and executing pick-and-rolls were vital.

Now, superstars stand on the wings and the rest of the players wait for something to happen.

(Many players are in the league) for eight, nine years and still can’t improve on a mid-range jump shot. That’s a travesty: make all that money and not make any improvements.

(He lists Denver guard Chauncey Billups, Pistons guard Richard Hamilton and Hornets guard Chris Paul as players he enjoys watching from time to time.)

How has your style of play changed since you entered the NBA as a can’t-miss scoring phenom?

In LSU, in high school and in the NBA at times, where I was pretty much asked to put points on the board, you are thrust into that position and you try to accommodate it as best as you can. For this team to be pretty much balanced, it makes it easy for everybody really.

When you have to go night in and night out and look to score 25-30 points, that’s a lot of pressure and a lot of work and it takes a lot out of you.

(Abdul-Rauf’s basketball IQ spills out over the next several minutes of our conversation as he breaks down individual matchups and the role a big man plays in getting his four teammates open looks.)

But . . . if you give me an inch, I’m going to take it. If I feel I can manipulate you or take you down, I’m going to do that.