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Abdur-Rahim to bring ‘connected philosophy’ to men’s basketball coaching position

New men’s basketball head coach Amir Abdur Rahim (center-right) thanked Board of Trustees Chair Will Weatherford (left), USF President Rhea Law (center-left) and Athletic Director Michael Kelly (right) in his opening remarks. ORACLE PHOTO/HANNAH HALILI

In his introductory ceremony Thursday afternoon, Amir Abdur-Rahim acknowledged the privilege it was to be named the 11th head coach in USF men’s basketball program history.

As he spoke to the Bulls community for the first time, Abdur-Rahim made it clear that his approach will be based on tenacity and enthusiasm.

“Every day that I wake up, and my feet hit the ground, as your head coach I will represent this university, this program, and this community at the highest level,” Abdur-Rahim said.

Before arriving in Tampa, he led one of the most impressive rebuilds in all of college basketball as the head coach at Kennesaw State. In just three seasons, the Owls rebuilt from a one-win campaign in 2019-2020 to make the NCAA tournament in 2022-23.

For his stellar season, he was named the Hugh Durham Coach of the year on Thursday. The award is given to the top mid-major coach in college basketball.

Abdur-Rahim emphasized that “connectedness” was the secret behind his previous team’s success. The deep bonds between him and his players translated to success on the court at Kennesaw State. He said he wants to input that same comradery at USF.

“I think that connection wins championships, simply put,” Abdur-Rahim said. “You can have a good offense, defense and toughness, but when you get the connection to go along with that? You’re not going to be good, you’re not gonna be great, you’re going to be elite and we want to be elite here at South Florida.”

Abdur-Rahim was joined by his wife Arianne and their children Laila, Lana and Ayden in his introductory ceremony. ORACLE PHOTO/HANNAH HALILI

The familial bond that the Georgia native had with his previous team is what USF Athletics Michael Kelly envisioned for the new era of South Florida sports.

Kelly said he wants to build the identity of USF Athletics on the foundation of a “blue-collar culture, connectedness, adaptation and hard work” — traits that Abdur-Rahim exemplified in the hiring process.

These same principles also stuck out to Kelly in football coach Alex Golesh. Golesh and Abdur-Rahim have backgrounds in rebuilding programs and emphasized building a family-like
culture in their coaching philosophy.

“He’s had a couple of years to learn what it is like to be head coach, a very successful assistant coach, elite recruiter and he seems to be a great connector of teams,” Kelly said about Abdur-Rahim. “And that’s why I had the faith to move that forward.”

From Abdur-Rahim’s perspective, building a connected culture starts by recruiting not only talented players, but “high-character” individuals that will want to buy into a coach’s system.

While the transfer portal will still be a viable option, recruiting grass-root talent at the high school level will be a priority. He aims to have South Florida men’s basketball command the same respect that in-state neighbors such as Florida State and Miami get recruiting-wise.

“USF is going to be in those conversations. We will keep the best of the best, especially from the state of Florida, right here at home,” Abdur-Rahim said. “When I say we’re gonna build a fence, we are gonna get out there and build real relationships with these potential student-athletes.”

Abdur-Rahim said recruiting will be a top priority for him as he enters this new position. ORACLE PHOTO/HANNAH HALILI

Along with recruiting, the work for Abdur-Rahim starts now as he assembles a coaching staff. In the coming days, decisions will be made on whether the previous staff will be retained or not.

Abdur-Rahim said that he wants to meet with them first before any changes are made.

South Florida fans can look to mid-major teams like San Diego State and future AAC rival Florida Atlantic that have made astounding turnarounds. Both teams will suit up in the NCAA tournament’s Final Four this weekend. Abdur-Rahim said the infrastructure is in place for the Bulls to have similar success down the line.

“I asked [Kelly], are you afraid of heights? Because you’re gonna have to get up on that ladder one day to cut down those nets,” Abdur-Rahim said.