A homecoming for Georgia basketball’s Jabri Abdur-Rahim

Georgia basketball player Jabri Abdur-Rahim (1) assumes defensive position during a game against FIU at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh

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Georgia basketball player Jabri Abdur-Rahim (1) assumes defensive position during a game against FIU at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh

Credit: Tony Walsh

ATHENS – It’s a double-homecoming for Georgia’s Jabri Abdur-Rahim this week.

A first-year transfer for the Georgia Bulldogs, Abdur-Rahim not only is returning to his old stomping grounds when the Bulldogs play in the Roman Legends Classic Tournament in Newark, N.J., but he’ll go against some old teammates as Georgia draws Virginia in the first round Monday night.

Adbur-Rahim grew up in Orange, N.J., just a little over five miles from where UGA will be playing Virginia Monday night (7 p.m., ESPNU) at the Prudential Center. The high school he attended, Blair Academy, is a little farther down the road in Blairstown. That’s where Abdur-Rahim developed into a basketball star. He led Blair to the 2019 Class A state championship and became New Jersey’s Gatorade Player of the Year. He played only two games as a senior before a foot injury wiped out his season.

Adbur-Rahim signed with Virginia to much fanfare as a Top 40 recruiting prospect in 2020. But between lingering issues with his foot and difficulty fitting into coach Tony Bennett’s system, Abdur-Rahim hit the portal looking for a fresh start. It didn’t take him long to settle on Georgia.

“I’ve known Coach (Tom) Crean for a while, back before he was at Georgia,” Abdur-Rahim said. “I went to some camps he was working when he wasn’t coaching, and then he recruited me out of high school. … So, when I entered the transfer portal, I had an idea that’s who I wanted to be recruited by. And when I went through that process, I feel like he was the most authentic and consistent coach I talked to and had a clear vision for what he wanted this team to look like and what impact I would have.”

Abdur-Rahim’s uncle, Amir Abdur-Rahim, was an assistant on Crean’s staff before becoming head coach at Kennesaw State. His father is Atlanta native Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who starred at Wheeler High and Cal before his NBA all-star career. Jabri’s family moved to New Jersey from California when his father became president of the G-League.

His father and five of Adbur-Rahim’s uncles played college basketball. Now it’s time for the 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward to write his own script.

That was a wash with the Cavaliers. He played in only eight games, averaging less than a point (0.9) and a total of only 35 minutes of playing time.

Addur-Rahim has gotten off to a better start at Georgia. He headed to New Jersey averaging 4.5 and 3.3 rebounds while starting one the four games. He’s coming off his best game as a Bulldog, scoring 10 points on a perfect shooting night of 3-for-3 from the floor and 2-for-2 from 3-point range against Georgia Tech last Friday night.

“Yeah, we need that. We need Jabri to play well,” Crean said. “I’m glad to see him shoot the ball. He made some good defensive plays. We need him to be able to be an efficient contributor and that’s a very good start for him.”

It wasn’t a great night for the Bulldogs, however. They lost to the Yellow Jackets 88-78, getting outscored 15-5 over the final 3:21.

Still, Abdur-Rahim’s play was one of the bright spots.

“Every night we have to be ready when your number is called; he did that tonight,” senior point guard Aaron Cook said of Adbur-Rahim. “Jabri works day-in and day-out on his shot. He’s in the gym with me every day, so he was just ready when his number was called. His points and contributions definitely helped us.”

The Bulldogs will need every contribution they can get against Virginia. The 2019 national champions were ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season and lost their top three scorers from that team. But Cavaliers still feature top-shelf ACC talent. Led by 6-6- forward Jayden Gardner (13.3 ppg) and 6-4 guard Armaan Franklin (13), they return a combined 43 starts. They’ve brought in four newcomers, including two transfers.

UVA averages just 59.3 points a game. But as always under coach Tony Bennett, it’s all about the defense. The Wahoos (2-2) come to New Jersey seeking improvement on both ends. They already have losses to Navy (66-58) and Houston (67-47).

Georgia (2-2) comes in wanting to improve on fundamentals. The Bulldogs missed half their 24 free throws in the 10-point loss to Tech and committed 14 turnovers to boot.

The winners and losers between Georgia-Virginia and Providence-Northwestern will face off on Tuesday in Newark.

The Bulldogs have been in Newark since Saturday. By tonight, Abdur-Rahim will have had time to visit old friends and reminisce a little.

But his main focus is on the future and building bonds with his new team of 10 newcomers.

“At first when I got, I thought it was going to be more challenging,” Adbur-Rahim said. “But getting to know our staff and everybody has made it like a family atmosphere from the beginning. So, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten with people in such a short amount of time. We’re friends on and off the court.”

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