TAMPA — About midway through his formal introduction Thursday as USF men’s basketball coach, Amir Abdur-Rahim’s youngest child — a toddler named Ayden — began sobbing mildly and squirming in his mom’s lap.
“Ayden is going to be a big-time Bull one day. He’s a little bit of a bear right now,” Abdur-Rahim said as the Muma Basketball Center audience of roughly 200 chuckled.
Whether the new coach can keep downtrodden Bulls fans from fidgeting and fussing remains to be seen.
A 42-year-old dad of three, Abdur-Rahim finalized a deal Wednesday to become USF’s 11th coach. Charged with resuscitating a program that has had one winning season since its last NCAA Tournament berth in 2012, his hiring comes just as Florida Atlantic — set to join the Bulls’ conference next season — prepares for its inaugural Final Four appearance.
“You look down the road and you look who’s in the Final Four, the question I ask you guys is, why not us?” Abdur-Rahim said. “Why not South Florida? Why is that not attainable here? It is. We’ve got everything we need to be successful. Now we’ve just got to get to work and it’s got to be an everyday thing.”
Here are a few things we learned Thursday about the Marietta, Georgia, native, whose four-year transformation of Kennesaw State resulted in an NCAA tourney berth this past season:
Abdur-Rahim is the fourth-oldest of 13 children born to Deborah Hester and William Abdur-Rahim. They range in age from 14 to 47.
Six of the boys played college basketball, including older brother Shareef, a 13-year NBA veteran and president of the NBA’s G-League. The youngest, a high school freshman named Libby, helped lead The Galloway School to Georgia’s Class A Division I girls state title game in Macon earlier this month.
Fun fact: Combined, Abdur-Rahim and USF Board of Trustees chair Will Weatherford have 22 kids in their families. Weatherford is the second-oldest of nine siblings.
Abdur-Rahim met his wife, Arianne Buchanan, through mutual friends at a Fourth of July party in Atlanta more than a decade ago. Abdur-Rahim and his friend arrived at the party around 3 p.m.; his future wife and her friend showed up around midnight.
They were engaged four months later and married on Aug. 4, 2012. Their first informal date was at a Waffle House.
“I was like, man, that’s when I knew I had a good girl,” Abdur-Rahim said.
Buchanan, who hails from Orlando, is a lawyer licensed to practice in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. In addition to Ayden, the couple has two older daughters, Laila and Lana.
While hardly discrediting the NCAA transfer portal (which he used to his benefit at Kennesaw State), Abdur-Rahim insists he wants to build the foundation of the Bulls roster with high school talent.
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Moreover, he says the ideal portal prospects are ones he recruited heavily in high school who signed elsewhere but later seek a transfer.
“You see a lot of really good high school players just kind of being left out in the cold right now,” Abdur-Rahim said.
“And so we’re always going to start at that grass-roots level, because when you’re recruiting a high school kid, you have an opportunity to mold him from Day 1. Not saying every kid that’s in the portal you can’t change, you can’t mold, but if they’ve been somewhere that they’ve had an experience that wasn’t positive, it’s hard to change that mindset.”
Let’s face it: At this point, Bulls fans probably don’t care whether Abdur-Rahim gets his players from Florida or Finland, as long as they can help USF start winning. Nonetheless, the new coach said in-state players will be his staff’s priority.
“We are going to build a fence around this deal,” said Abdur-Rahim, who assisted at a handful of schools including Georgia, Texas A&M and College of Charleston.
“We will reach to some different areas based on our relationships, it’s how it is. But again, I want the players in the state of Florida to know, we’ll be in your gym before we ever ask you to come to campus. We’ll be active on that recruiting trail, I promise you that.”
In a move sure to procure points with the fan base, Abdur-Rahim gave a shoutout to women’s coach Jose Fernandez, who just led the Bulls to the ninth NCAA Tournament berth of his 23-season tenure.
“What he’s built at South Florida on the women’s side — second to none,” Abdur-Rahim said. “So I don’t have to look far. I’ll be sitting in his office, I’ll be picking his brain. He’ll be my best friend because to do it for as long as he’s done it, at the level that he’s done it, he knows the formula. There’s no secret sauce. The secret’s in the dirt, you’ve just got to work.”
In Fernandez’s case, you’ve got to work the world; he has made a career of building competitive rosters with international talent. Kennesaw State had two foreign-born players on its roster during Abdur-Rahim’s four seasons at the school.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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