Saturday, February 6, 2016

'Mo Opportunity In South Florida For Israel-bred Sharpshooter

Growing up in Israel, Mohamed Abuarisha was enamored with the rapid rise of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball program.  The more the basketball seed began to grow in Israel, the more and more intrigued Abuarisha became.

What began as a hobby soon become the livelihood of Abuarisha. He recalls countless nights firing up shots from all across the court for hours and hours and hours. While his friends were out and about, Abuarisha said he was working on his 3-point shot and adjusting his free throw shooting form on a pin drop quiet court. He remembers hearing nothing but the echo of the ball and crickets as he put up 1500-2000 jumpers and 3-pointers by himself on nights, no rebounder and no shooting gun. Just him and the bucket.

Despite this devotion and despite his status as one of the country's best shooters on the high school level, it was never enough. Abuarisha's insatiable thirst for the game was never quite quenched in Israel. There was always a desire for more coursing through his competitive juice-spiked veins.

Exasperated by a lack of opportunity for players of his talent, he envisioned no basketball future in the homeland.

 It wasn't until "Mo" began watching the NBA that his love for the game blossomed. At the same time, he began to plan a different approach to his future playing career.

It was the NBA's astonishing level of competition, unparalleled athleticism and constant entertainment value which kept Abuarisha's eyes pasted to the T.V. screen.

As the young hoop head perused highlight reels and began dissecting NBA film religiously, he took critical mental notes which helped shape him as a player.

Abuarisha soon realized that the biggest athletes on the floor were moving just as fast as the guards. It made sense for a kid who towered over opponents but yet was rooted in a guard's skill-set. Even as the tallest player on the court, Abuarishi leaned on deep 3-point shooting ability and even played some point guard.

Abuarisha witnessed the deadeye, quick-strike shooting of Steph Curry, devoured by a blink-quick 0.2 second shot release. He valued the consistent presence of the pick-and-roll in the big leagues, an art mastered by Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.

 "I thought to myself, 'one day I should aspire to get to this level," Abuarisha said. "That would be my dream. To play in the NBA."

 Abuarisha grew in height. He grew in talent. He grew in IQ and his 3-point range extended, as he fired in from well beyond the confines of the arc.

In quick-hit fashion, Abuarisha's style of play created a rare matchup problem. Playing both age-appropriate and against grown men, the issue he created for defenders was apparent. Forwards and Centers couldn't stay in front of him and he frequently forced them to play well away from the rim with his mid-range and deep shooting ability. Smaller defenders had difficulty countering him, as he backed them into the post or drove them right to the rim and finished with ease.

Growing character, becoming more focused and adept in the classroom, and improving as a mature leader, Abuarisha kept his hoop dreams intact. It ultimately led him to a far-and-away land at Elev8 Prep in Delray Beach, Fla., where his hunger for an NCAA scholarship and devotion to the game fits him right at home.

At Elev8 Prep, Abuarisha's team places emphasis on being interchangeable and being multi-layered on the floor. Abuarisha has made consistent efforts to become more aggressive on defensive rebounds and play at a more physical level, less reliant on his shooting and pull-up jumpers in the half-court set.

Now at 6-foot-7 with a deft, deep 3-point shooting touch, Abuarisha has attracted Division-I coaches around the country. He earned respect during his performance at the NBA Top 100 camp this past summer and has gained momentum as a critical go-to guy for head coach Shane Maynard.

  "What stands out about Mohammed is his skill-set," said teammate Levi Cook, a 6-foot-10, 284-pound gargantuan Center who is also a high-major recruit.

 "He hits open shots, he's very athletic for a two-guard and he's only getting better. His height and length really separate him as a player, because he can shoot it from deep and spread out the floor and take bigger defenders away from the basket. That's all really important at the next level."

 And where will that next level be?

Texas Tech, Jacksonville State, and Hofstra have been involved with Abuarisha, who Miami area strength and conditioning guru Tony Falce describes as "one of the hardest working and coachable kids I've had."

 Falce frequently trains Chris "Birdman" Andersen and high-rising guard Tyler Johnson of the nearby Miami Heat, so earning that kind of clout from the master trainer is quite meaningful at this stage of the post-grad's career.

 Abuarisha came to America with his sights set solely on a Division-I scholarship. By understanding more complicated reads and defensive schemes, becoming more vocal as a leader, gelling with teammates, and becoming cognizant of when to deliver under heightened pressure, he's savored the experience. He's developed a greater grasp of winning and working in cohesive fashion to attain team goals.

 As a steady double-digit scorer with a mixed bag of offensive weapons, he's become a team leader and an offensive focal point for Maynard's offense.

 "He sees the play before it unfolds," said Maynard, who Abuarishi cites as an everyday presence in his development.

 "The main thing for his improvement is just getting stronger, packing some muscle on. Getting used to the speed of the game. Footwork, as well. Putting the ball on the floor, embracing contact and trying to get to the free throw line more by attacking the rim. He has a lot of potential and he's really worked his tail off to get to where he is."

 Teammates laud him for his versatility and steadily improving court sense.

 "One of the best things about Mo is he's able to really contribute all across the boards," said Cook.

 "He's athletic as a two guard, he can feed the post and make a dish that you really don't see many off guards make. He's got an arsenal that includes a little bit of everything."

 Including a deceptive pair of hops, as his coach would note.

 "He's got what we call 'sneaky bounce,'" Maynard said.

 "He doesn't look like he can jump. Really, he's so long and athletic, to the point where he'll get his elbow above the rim to flush it with one hand or two hands. He definitely can get up there."

 Fitting, as it was the extravagant above the rim and flashy style of the American game that drew the Israeli-bred guard from the beginning.

 "I think it was just the speed, the fact that there is a lot of transition play, the athleticism of the game, the dunking and the physicality, all of this I really liked," Abuarisha explained. "It made me want to come and play here in America, where of course there was more of a culture for it. I knew I'd like it, I really knew I would like it a lot."

 Like has rapidly morphed into love for Abuarishi here in sun-baked Delray Beach, where he's a staple on the outdoor courts and in 5-on-5 runs at nearby L.A. Fitness.

 "He just works so damn hard," said Cook. "You would think he's a 13th man trying with all his might to make a 12-man roster. There are no limitations with him. He is full throttle in everything he does."

 Added Falce,  "Having Rom (Ben Avi) here certainly helps his production. They are two hard-working, blue collar kids that do everything to the max. They take no shortcuts."

 Falce said a kid like Abuarisha has a high ceiling because of his lust for the unrequired work, because of a focus that doesn't seem to falter.

 "One of the main important things is having a trust level and those guys (Mohamed and Rom), they came in and they gained my trust level just with their work ethic," explained Falce.

 "A lot of basketball players, in the real world, when they see performance they don't look at it and evaluate it to the level of extreme as Mo and Rom. These guys came in willing to learn, understanding what they are trying to do, what we're trying to achieve as our goal."