John Beilein admitted comparing Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to Randy Smith wasn’t fair. After all, it’s premature to say a college freshman with two starts has similar talent to an NBA All-Star who once played a then-record 906 consecutive games.
But following Abdur-Rahkman’s nine-point, four-rebound performance against Nebraska on Tuesday afternoon, Beilein made the connection anyway.
“I can remember when Randy Smith was with the Buffalo Braves — I’m really dating myself,” the Michigan coach laughed. “He’d just run by people. And people would try and get in front of him. You’d say, ‘How is he going by him?’ And he would just do it. [Abdur-Rahkman] just can run by people on the fast break. And he doesn’t even know what he’s doing yet.”
During a game in which the Wolverines were without Derrick Walton Jr., the freshman played a career-high 37 minutes. And for the third time in four games, he was one of Michigan’s better scoring guards on the court.
His skillset was most apparent in transition, when Abdur-Rahkman tallied three of his four field goals. On a team that has struggled with transition offense, the freshman’s willingness to attack the basket helped Michigan in crucial situations.
“I just saw some open slots,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Coach pointed out some places where we could drive to the basket. We just tried to attack that.”
The guard had a wide-open lane for his first basket, which sparked a 15-2 run to start the second half. When Aubrey Dawkins blocked Benny Parker inside, Abdur-Rahkman went coast-to-coast for a left-handed layup.
A minute later, he struck again. After the 1-3-1 zone resulted in an Abdur-Rahkman steal, he received the ball outside the three-point line with Parker between him and the basket. The guard pushed the pace anyway and scored with an acrobatic finish.
“He’s really got some speed, and coming in the door, he didn’t like to use it as much”
It was a play Michigan hadn’t seen out of Abdur-Rahkman enough earlier in the season. Though he had always seemed adept at getting to the rim, one of his biggest struggles had been finishing when he got there.
“He’s really got some speed, and coming in the door, he didn’t like to use it as much,” Beilein said. “He’s that north-south player.”
Abdur-Rahkman didn’t make a jump shot Tuesday, and that remains an area of improvement. But that didn’t stop him from contributing more big plays to guide the Wolverines to a key victory over the Cornhuskers.
In a half-court set with 11 minutes left in the game, Abdur-Rahkman received a pass on the right wing. Blowing by Parker, he put up a floater through contact from Moses Abraham. The shot dropped after a friendly bounce, and the freshman sank the free throw to pad Michigan’s lead.
Only seconds later, when the Wolverines’ defense forced yet another turnover, Abdur-Rahkman went coast-to-coast for a second time. The bucket forced a Cornhusker timeout, giving the Crisler Center fans a few extra seconds for an ovation.
“I feel like I’m more comfortable with the defense and physicality of the game to just drive to the basket now,” the freshman said.
Attacking the rim is nothing new to him; it’s what he did best in high school. But if it’s finally clicking for him in college?
Well, given the potential severity of Walton’s foot injury — he’ll undergo tests on his foot today and his status for Sunday remains up in the air — it’s not as if Michigan currently has many other options. So as Abdur-Rahkman’s role expands beyond preseason expectations, Beilein would surely like to envision more NBA comparisons.