Homegrown talent helping Kennesaw State make history

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

When Amir Abdur-Rahim got the offer to become Kennesaw State’s head coach, he couldn’t accept without first checking with a player he had recruited to Georgia as an assistant coach for the Bulldogs.

You may have heard of him – Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star guard Anthony Edwards, native Atlantan and No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft.

“You recruit any kid, and you give your word you’re going to be there, you don’t want to go back on that,” Abdur-Rahim said. “And I’m not saying every coach is like that, but this is a true story. If you get in touch with Ant somehow, he’ll tell you. I called him and I said ‘Hey man, I have an opportunity to become a head coach. But if you want me, if you need me here at UGA, then I’m not going to take it.’ He goes, and you’ve gotta know Anthony, he’s like, ‘Bruh, man, take that job.’ And the funniest part about it, he goes, ‘Man, I’m only going to be there eight months,’ and I was like, ‘You know what, you right about that.’”

The challenges of taking over at Kennesaw State excited Abdur-Rahim, and with Edwards’ blessing, he dove in. One of the first things on the to-do list?

“I literally told my AD, ‘You want to get people in these stands?’ We’ve got to recruit Georgia. We’ve got to keep our kids here,’” Abdur-Rahim said.

In the final season of Al Skinner’s coaching regime (6-26 record in 2018-19), the Owls had three players from Georgia on the roster. Now, that number is up to eight, with three more having played high school basketball in Georgia, and another (forward Demond Robinson) who is from Alabama but played AAU basketball with Edwards in Atlanta.

With the Owls at 26-8, ASUN Conference champions and about to make their first Division I NCAA Tournament appearance, camaraderie among the largely homegrown team has played a helping hand.

“It’s great, honestly,” guard Terrell Burden (Campbell High School) said. “Because I know a lot of them growing up and playing them in AAU. I played a couple of them in high school, so it goes. It’s great, being that I used to compete against them and now that they’re one of my brothers, so I feel like we can go back and laugh and stuff like that. Just being that all of us are from the same area, it just makes it 10 times better.”

Extending outside the roster, playing college basketball so close to home has been extra special for Burden, whose family can drive 20 minutes to see his games.

Going back to Abdur-Rahim’s point about local players helping to fill the stands, the Owls welcomed a Kennesaw State Convocation Center record crowd of 3,805 as they beat Liberty 67-66 on March 5. Now, they await their seeding and will host a watch party at the Convocation Center on at 5 p.m. Sunday as they find out who and where they’re playing in the first round.

“It means the world to me,” Burden said. “I feel like I’m at home. And so I’m glad that we’re bringing back the culture that was once, not lost, but it wasn’t the same. So now that we have that culture, we want to continue to keep it where it’s at. So it feels great. … I feel like I’m always welcomed everywhere around here, so I always want to make people feel welcome for coming to the games. I always want to say hey to any children, any people that come and say hey. I just love the environment, I can’t ask for nothing better.”