A memorable weekend for Michigan's seniors

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - 12:49pm

Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored his 1,000th point with a game-winning free throw against Maryland.

Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored his 1,000th point with a game-winning free throw against Maryland. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

 

It was quite the weekend for Michigan basketball’s seniors.

But if you’re Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, you’re blasé about it all.

“I wasn’t thinking about much, just making the free throws,” the senior guard said after notching his 1,000th career point — a game-winning free throw to top Maryland on Monday. “... Definitely didn’t think it was gonna happen like that, but I’m glad it did — we got the win.”

A minute before with the Wolverines up 61-59, Abdur-Rahkman pump-faked and sent two Maryland defenders flying. One dribble to the left, a spot-up and a much-needed 3-pointer ignited a frenzy at Crisler Center.

In Saturday’s 82-72 upset over then-No. 4 Michigan State, Abdur-Rahkman contributed 14 points for his first win in East Lansing, including a tough, and-one layup that gave the Wolverines a two-possession lead halfway through the second half.

That same day and nearly 700 miles away, the women’s team was creating magic of its own from the charity stripe. Freshman guard Deja Church hit three free throws to send the Wolverines into overtime, where they would eventually topple Nebraska, 69-64.

A stressful situation? Of course. But it was one they wouldn’t have even been in without shooting virtuoso Katelynn Flaherty. It was business as usual for the senior guard — 9-for-17 from the field and a game-high 26 points.

Saturday’s road contest was special beyond a thrilling victory, though. With 8:03 remaining in the second quarter, Flaherty spotted up from the top of the 3-point line and scored her 2,443rd career point. She had surpassed Glen Rice’s record to become the stand-alone scoring leader in Michigan basketball history, man or woman.

It’s pretty incredible to think I could hold the record at such a prestigious university,” Flaherty told The Summitt. “... I think it was all set up perfectly for me to be successful.”

Added women’s coach Kim Barnes Arico: “Her story is really special. Hers is a story of hard work and of perseverance and of never giving up and overcoming obstacles.”

Flaherty is unequivocally the best player in Michigan women’s basketball history. The same cannot be said for Abdur-Rahkman on the men’s side. But the two East Coast natives have plenty in common. Most significantly, perhaps, is that their teams would not be where they are now — a 16-4 record for both teams — without them.

Neither particularly possesses stand-out athleticism, a trait that made them only a step above being a fly on the wall coming out of high school. Flaherty makes up for her 5-foot-7 frame with a work ethic marveled by her teammates — she takes 1,000 extra shots after practice. Abdur-Rahkman has compensated for his skinny frame with his trademark dribble-drive finesse at the hoop and his general basketball IQ.

“1,000 points, too,” said junior forward Moritz Wagner about Abdur-Rahkman’s accomplishments. “I’m very happy for him about that. He is, in my opinion, very underrated in this league. The way he is playing is awesome.”

From a leadership standpoint, neither is the most vocal — that role has been assumed by more animated players like Wagner and senior forward Jillian Dunston. Instead, they lead through composure, and let their play do the talking. Men’s coach John Beilein has even compared Abdur-Rahkman’s calm to notable players in the past like Trey Burke and Stu Douglass. And the senior’s stone face during his fate-clinching free throws on Monday circulated the internet thanks to awe-struck fans and followers.

Abdur-Rahkman and Flaherty’s quieter style, in other words, could be described as humble. When asked about their individual performances, it is inevitable there will be a mention of their respective coaches and teammates.

“They have always believed in me and found me in great positions,” Flaherty said. “I don’t know if I could have done this anywhere else.”

Added Abdur-Rahkman about his team’s chemistry: “We always say that all we need is what we have in this room and we don’t listen to the outside sources and things like that. I think us being so close as a group, as a team, helps us go into tough environments like Michigan State and other places on the road.”

Regardless of the help from their teammates or the hurdles they have overcome to be focal points of their team, their respective impacts are unquestioned.

Both players are having their best seasons in terms of points, rebounds and assists. The women’s team appears poised to make its first NCAA Tournament since 2013. The men’s team looks like it will have a much easier path to get there than last year.

It was a whirlwind three-day, three-win stretch that revealed a message: this year is much different for both teams. Flaherty and Abdur-Rahkman make that a good thing.