Thursday, January 19, 2012

Quick look at Mavericks' transfer from Egypt

Took a few minutes Thursday to watch the Minnesota State men's basketball team practice, with a specific eye on Egyptian Assem Ahmed, who began practicing with the team this week.

It tells you a lot about how this season is going that the most interesting thing to watch is a player who is not yet eligible and may not play a minute this season. And his name is pronouced AW-sem, which makes for some nice nicknames should he become popular.

Though only 19, the 6-10, 240-pound Ahmed has played international basketball as a member of Egypt's national U19 team so you know he has skills. On Thursday, he showed good footwork in the post and a soft touch on his shot.

You can tell that he hasn't had a lot of coaching. When he had the ball at the top of the key, he often held it with just one hand and he made some lazy passes. Yet, he certainly knows the pick-and-roll, working that to perfection a few times in half-court drills.

He's going to need to get stronger. He didn't look real aggressive, and he wasn't afraid of contact, but some time in the weight room will further his chances of playing professional basketball, which he said is the reason he came to the U.S.

He's already the best post player on the team, and it remains to be seen how he'll rebound or if he's a shot blocker. At first glance, he seems more athletic than Travis Nelson or Atila Santos, two of the best big men ever to play at Minnesota State. He's not real outgoing, though maybe that will come as he gets more comfortable here. He was one of the first players to high-five a teammate after a good play at practice.

We'll have to see if his work ethic matches those two.

Coach Matt Margenthaler said Thursday that the process of determining Ahmed's eligibility continues to roll along, without any real sense of when it will be decided. Ahmed wants to play this season, and Margenthaler wants him in there.

If Ahmed is declared eligible immediately, the Mavericks will be able to challenge for a berth in the Northern Sun tournament. It's unlikely that his addition will put Minnesota State in position to win the conference tournament, which is the only way this team can continue the program's streak of national-tournament berths.

If Ahmed can't play until next season, that means he and Jayme Moten, who transferred here from Texas-Pan American, will be the first two building blocks for a major roster makeover. The program has already signed Michael Busack from Redwood Valley, but expect another transfer or two or three to show up before Oct. 15.

You wouldn't expect Margenthaler and his staff to meekly accept another season such as this one.

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