John Bednarowski: Shareef Abdur-Rahim continues having an influence on Cobb County basketball
Mar. 10—You can take the man out of Cobb County, but you can't take Cobb County out of the man.
Right now, it's likely few people fit that moniker better than Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and the former Wheeler Wildcat has had his presence felt quite a bit back in his native county lately.
During Kennesaw State's run to its first ASUN regular-season and tournament titles, Abdur-Rahim was often seen sitting in the stands supporting his brother, Amir, on his journey as a head coach.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim, a longtime NBA star and now president of the NBA G League, was also there last week to see Amir's Owls team cut down the nets following their 67-66 victory over Liberty in the ASUN tite game.
Shareef said it has been fun to watch Amir grow into the coach he is today. Amir has said Shareef has been a big influence on him, and the fact that Amir is successful is no surprise to Shareef.
"In high school, college and his early mentorship time, he's always been great with communication," Shareef said. "Amir has always had an attention to detail, and he's had the courage of his convictions. He's always had those traits. He's a leader, and I knew he was going to be successful in whatever he wanted to do. Once he got into coaching, I knew he would be good."
Shareef was at Amir's KSU coaching debut four years ago at Creighton, and he plans on being at the first NCAA Tournament game next week. The Owls will find out who and where they will be playing Sunday, but it's still hard for Shareef to explain to people how far the university has truly come — and not just on the hardwood.
"I tell people that, when I left 20-plus years ago, it wasn't like this," Shareef said of Kennesaw State, which is the second biggest university in the state with more than 40,000 students, and now with a full Division I athletic program that is thriving. "When I left, Southern Poly and Life were really more prevalent."
Amir's work with the Owls will only make the university's stature continue to grow. They are the only program from Georgia that will be going to the NCAA Tournament. They will likely be the favorite to win the ASUN next year, and the way the team is trending, there will be a seamless transition to Conference USA in 2024.
"I knew he could recruit Georgia," Shareef said of his brother. "I knew he knew how to build a program, and he was going to hire good people. If he could get the support of the community and the administration, which he has, I knew he could do it."
Shareef, however, said there is one thing that surprised him.
"I didn't think he would do it this quickly," he said.
In some ways, that has caught Amir off guard a little bit, too. He felt like this team has gotten to where it is a year early, but that doesn't mean the Owls are just happy to be in the tournament. Amir is confident in his squad and feels like they have a chance to make some noise next week.
Amir isn't the only one.
"I've loved watching the process," Shareef said. "I've loved watching Terrell (Burden) grow up and become the player he is. He has become a true leader. Chris Youngblood, Brandon Stroud, all of them. You've seen them mold into a team."
While Shareef wasn't sure what seed Kennesaw State might get, or make any predictions, he did say that if the Owls got the right matchup, it could be a long day or night for their opponent.
"They are battle-tested," he said. "They will be a tough out."
While Abdur-Rahim has enjoyed watching Kennesaw State, he's also had a good time watching the growth of former Kell High School standout Scoot Henderson.
As a 17-year-old, Henderson reclassified his graduating class and earned his high school diploma a year early. Instead of going to college, he decided to become the youngest professional basketball player in U.S. history and join the G League.
Abdur-Rahim helped advise Henderson with the decision and has helped guide him through his first two years as a pro. Now, the former Longhorn, who is averaging 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists for G League Ignite, is projected to be the No. 2 pick in this summer's NBA draft.
Abdur-Rahim said Henderson's potential was undeniable, and a lot of the credit has to be given to his family.
"His talent, his raw talent — that's what popped out to me," Abdur-Rahim said. "When I first saw him, I said, 'There's no way he's 17.' But over the last two years, you've gotten to see how strong his family is, and you've seen him grow as a person and a player. You get to see how smart he is and how selfless."
The talent is now taking Henderson to another level.
"He's playing against good talent," Abdur-Rahim said. "He's playing against guys who have already learned how to be a professional, and he's outplaying that level of player.
"Our league is a man's league. He's an extremely mature kid. He makes mistakes like anybody, but he is quickly understanding what it takes to be successful in the NBA. I talked to (Ignite coach) Jason Hart, and he's told me that he never sees (Henderson) come in the gym on his phone, and when practice is over, he never sees (Henderson) sit down a get out his phone. He has one focus, and it's basketball."
Another team with its focus on basketball is Abdur-Rahim's alma mater. He helped Wheeler win the 1994 state championship, and he has paid attention to the Wildcats during their run to Saturday's Class AAAAAAA state championship game against Cherokee.
Abdur-Rahim said the few times he has seen Wheeler play this year on TV, he felt it has gotten better. He has been impressed with the play of Isaiah Collier and Arrinten Page, both of whom are heading to Southern Cal to play their college ball.
Abdur-Rahim, like current Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown, went from Wheeler to play at California before leaving for the NBA after one season. Collier and Page may be following in their footsteps.
"I joke with people that going west has worked out pretty well (for Wheeler players)," Abdur-Rahim said. "(Winning the Naismith Player of the Year), Isaiah has done outstanding."
While Abdur-Rahim won't be able to watch the state title game, he said he will be scoreboard-watching, because once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.
"Wildcat nation!" Abdur-Rahim said. "Go Wildcats!"
John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cobbfballfri or @jbednarowski.