From 1-28 To Atlantic Sun Champions | How Amir Abdur-Rahim Turned Kennesaw State Into March Madness Party Crashers

Fourth-year Kennesaw State coach Amir Abdur-Rahim has witnessed the worst of the worst since taking over the metro Atlanta program in 2019.

That season his team went 1-28 and didn’t have much in the cupboard from a talent standpoint to get much better. Things slightly improved in year two as the Owls finished 5-19. Last season the team went 13-18, while showing some real grit and moxie as a program.

But in 2022, it all came together for Abdur-Rahim as his team has gone 26-8 and by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship, they clinched their first NCAA Tournament berth. 

Amir Abdur-Rahim Leads Kennesaw State To First NCAA Tournament

What a whirlwind turnaround for the Owls, who’ve had success but on the Division II level winning a national championship in 2004. The program hasn’t experienced much success since making the jump to Division I in 2005.

An elated Abdur-Rahim — who is a younger brother of former NBA All-Star and current G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim — came in and completely changed the culture. One thing he wanted to see happen was the Division II championship banner, which had been taken down in the arena, to be put back up. 

In an interview with ESPN on Monday, the rising coach had this to say about why he wanted that special banner hung back up. 

“That was a great symbol of special things can be done here,” Abdur-Rahim told ESPN on Monday morning. “We used it. Not just with recruiting, but with our team. There are people that have been here that care about this program. It was a place with no identity, but was on the cusp of being able to do something special.”

To go from one win four seasons ago, to 26 this season, is easily one of the biggest turnarounds in recent college basketball history. And it began with Abdur-Rahim’s message of changing the culture, but not overnight. He was more interested in the gradual approach, because that’s how you build a sustainable program, and not a one-year wonder here and there. 

First Winning Season For Kennesaw State

Since the move to Division I in 2005, the Owls hadn’t experienced a winning season until this year. Abdur-Rahim got plenty of experience on how to build his own program with stints on the Texas A&M and Georgia staffs. That set the table for his arrival at Kennesaw State, and this year the Owls outperformed in-state Power Five programs Georgia and Georgia Tech. He also let it be known that he didn’t wanna make this a transfer portal gig, where he loads up on transfers and then has to rebuild when they leave. 

“This is as simple as I can put it: Every job is not a transfer portal job,” he said. “Some jobs have to be built with high school kids, to be able sustain it over time. When you’re building a different team every year, everyone’s buy-in is not the same. We wanted to build with high school kids, get older on the same guys. I’ve been fortunate and blessed to be able to do that.”

Talented Quartet Leads Owls To Likely No. 16 Seed In NCAA Tourney

The Owls are led by the quartet of juniors Chris Youngblood and Brandon Stroud and seniors Terrell Burden and Desmond Robinson — who combine to score 50 of the team’s 79 points per game. Keeping his team together is something Abdur-Rakim considers vital to the building of something special, and he’s been able to do just that. 

As they prepare to play in the First Four in Dayton, or face No. 1 seeds outright, one thing for sure and two things for certain, the Owls under Abdur-Rahim are fighters till the end. 


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