SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The walk between the bench to the Alamodome tunnel is as lonely as it is visible. After stepping up to the court and walking across it, it takes another 70 steps to leave — an expansive walk on the carpet with an unobstructed view around the arena until step No. 71.
That was the route Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman took, jogging behind his teammates as they exited. In the final game of the senior guard’s career — a 79-62 drubbing at the hands of Villanova in the National Championship game — all he could do was stroll, stone-faced, off the court for the last time in a Michigan uniform.
Nobody imagined his team would make it this far. The team’s accomplishments, including a program-best 33-8 record, didn’t make the defeat any less painful.
“You don’t think about it much right now because of the way we lost,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “But nobody had us here. Lost a couple guys to the NBA, a lot of new faces and we weren’t picked to be one of the top teams in the Big Ten. We went out there and proved them wrong from the beginning of the season to the end.”
Despite the results, Abdur-Rahkman did what a senior and team captain should do on the biggest stage — the perfect goodbye to one of the quietest players to rank in Michigan lore. In the first half of Monday night’s tilt, he finished a transition layup, knocked down a 3-pointer and finessed his way to two more easy layups and a free throw for 10 points. The captain even showed uncharacteristic emotion, hoisting up three fingers and pounding his chest after his triple.
Then he was substituted out after earning his second foul with 4:07 remaining, and the wheels came irreversibly off for Michigan. Wildcat guard Donte Divincenzo exploded for 31 points, draining shots every which way. When Villanova wasn’t scoring, the Wolverines committed one foul after another.
Abdur-Rahkman was the lone constant. The 6-foot-4 guard stayed aggressive, driving to the rim for points three separate times and hitting one crossover trey as part of his team-high 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting. The game was out of reach, but Abdur-Rahkman played like someone who knew it was his last.
“It’s a testament to his heart, the type of person he is,” said sophomore guard Ibi Watson. “Unfortunately, it was kinda overshadowed by our loss. But it just shows how he is as a person. He never gives up and he has such a great will.
“It’s something that’s rubbed off on all of us, and he’s a great example of what it’s like to be a Michigan man.”
With 1:10 remaining, Abdur-Rahkman checked out for the final time and embraced John Beilein. It wasn’t long after he lined up last for post-game handshakes and made his contemplative jog out of the arena. But he wasn’t thinking about the future — it was time to be a captain one more time and impart his wisdom on his teammates.
“I just wanted to say how proud I am of this team,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Being the captain, I had my hand in a lot of things and a lot of people’s growth. We wanted to see people grow and pass stuff on to the younger guys.”
Added freshman guard Jordan Poole when asked about Abdur-Rahkman’s leadership: “That’s big bro, straight like that. We done been through so much. I didn’t really talk to him at the beginning of the year because I was tryna feel him out, but now we talk everyday. Being able to be around that type of guy — he just has so much knowledge, he’s like 27 years old.”
So what comes next for the senior, who is actually just 23 years old?
Earlier in the season, Beilein called Abdur-Rahkman a guy who practices solely to improve, not to make the jump to a more competitive league. Pursuing a professional basketball career is not something that he’s ever spoken about publicly. Not even his teammates know.
“Muhammad’s not like that,” said freshman forward Isaiah Livers. “He’s gonna make a decision on his own, and that’s what I like most about him. But he hasn’t told me about it. … It’s not (his) last game of basketball, I do believe that.”
The “silent assassin,” as assistant coach Saddi Washington calls him, is just that — Abdur-Rahkman’s quiet imprint includes one of the most polished resumes in program history. A national championship appearance, two Big Ten Tournament titles, a Sweet Sixteen finish, 1,283 career points and a program record for most games played.
Abdur-Rahkman was never one to make light of that, of course. It’s not in the DNA of someone who came in as a two-star recruit and who was thrusted into the starting lineup his freshman year. His legacy is as powerful as it is predictable.
“Do your work in silence,” Livers remarked of what Abdur-Rahkman taught him. “You don’t see Duncan (Robinson) and Muhammad flaunting about all the work they’ve put in. They don’t say anything about that at all. … I haven’t told them this yet that I appreciate how much work they’ve put in even when nobody’s looking.”
But after Monday night’s loss, Abdur-Rahkman couldn’t escape the 67,831 person crowd as he walked off the court for the final time. He’s now a part of Michigan basketball history.