A star is born
UCLA walk-on Mustafa Abdul-Hamid becomes a star with one shot.
An astounding series of events that all leads to Mustafa Abdul-Hamid having the ball in his hands with the game on the line, pump-faking like there was no one else in the gym, and swishing a buzzer-beater to give UCLA a 62-61 win over Washington that made everyone in Pauley Pavilion forget for a second that the Bruins are just 8-10 on the season.
Was it the day in the summer of 2006 that Davidson offered a scholarship to Stephen Curry instead of making a home visit to Abdul-Hamid's house in St. Louis?
The day, a few weeks earlier that summer, he decided to tag along with his more-highly recruited childhood friend, Alex Tyus, to UCLA's basketball camp even though he says he'd never heard of Bruins coach Ben Howland or UCLA's future NBA players Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo?
The nights he spent last summer camping out in the Sahara desert as part of a study abroad program, forging the kind of character that had Howland saying that he was more emotional and proud of Abdul-Hamid than he's ever been for a player he's coached?
No really, here's what Howland said:
"I couldn't be happier for a player that I've coached since I've been in coaching, to have Mustafa make that shot," Howland gushed afterwards. "No one has worked harder, been more committed to the program and the team.
"He's spent more time, just countless hours by himself working on his shot, you have no idea. Nobody that I've had since I've been here has worked harder. So it's so rewarding and so nice to have a kid like him who's just a great example of a student athlete."
OK, back to the list of how exactly we got into this discussion in the first place:
At some point on Thursday night Howland realized that starting forward Nikola Dragovic had to be lifted for a defensive replacement at the end of the game.
Like most of the Bruins opponents this season, Washington is just more athletic than UCLA and Howland wasn't about to lose a one-point lead with seven seconds to go because somebody got by Dragovic.
So after a Washington timeout, he pulled his slow-footed Serbian and put Abdul-Hamid in.
In the time it took Venoy Overton to race down the court, past Abdul-Hamid, and put in a go-ahead lay-up, that move seemed superflous.
But just as everyone was making plans for a soggy commute home, Bruins guard Michael Roll spotted Abdul-Hamid unguarded near mid-court with three seconds left and figured it was worth a shot.
Yes, it was.
The crowd erupted, his teammates tackled him and danced.
"First off I would like to say, thank the Lord for Mustafa because he saved us twice this year," said a still-giddy Reeves Nelson, who led UCLA with 16 points.
Abdul-Hamid is the kind of hero who sends every writer on press row into a frantic dash for a thesaurus hoping to find five synonyms for "improbable."
A walk-on who didn't even get to dress as a freshman but impressed Howland so much with his work ethic that he earned a scholarship by his third year.
A scholar who passed up the opportunity to attend Harvard and the University of Chicago to chase his dream at UCLA.
Over the summers he interns with City Councilmen and mayors, during the school year he does research for professors and works on the Chancellor's committee for Sustainability.
Phew, I believe another deep breath is in order.
It's hard to say how many people inside Pauley Pavilion knew any of that stuff Thursday night.
The only relevant part of Abdul-Hamid's biography they cared about was that he somehow found the nerve to catch the inbound pass from Roll, dribble up near the 3-point line, pump fake to clear Venoy Overton out of his way, and let loose a rather perfect buzzer-beater.
The moments afterwards were pure joy. Students rushing the court, teammates mobbing him, a television interview that went by so fast he can hardly remember what he said.
"Oh man, I was totally shaking," Abdul-Hamid said. "I was just so excited and happy my leg was shaking the whole time."
A few minutes later he was up in the interview room, fielding questions from the press and talking about Kobe Bryant.
Yes, Kobe Bryant.
"You know, and don't take this the wrong way, but I saw an interview a long time ago where Kobe Bryant was talking about the game-winners that he made," Abdul-Hamid said. "And he said that as an offensive player you know the clock. The defense doesn't because their back is to the goal. So I knew I had a little bit of time."
A little bit of time to become a really big star.