The African Tiger: Karim Abdul

Shielo Mendoza
College Hoops

He traveled 12,000 kilometers from the Central African republic of Cameroon to the Philippines, flying 15 hours and landing squarely in the lair of the UST Growling Tigers.

It's hard not to notice the 19-year-old Engineering student. At six-foot-six, Karim Abdul seemed ready-made for the league.

Indeed, Abdul has proven that his skills on court are as impressive as his height and has clearly helped the Tigers on their way to a spot in the playoffs this September.

The dominant Tiger

Head coach Pido Jarencio was all praises for the Cameroonian after he led UST to a scintillating 77-70 win over the UP Fighting Maroons when he posted his best performance yet this season—the game-best 21 points and 11 rebounds.

"He is now dominating. I think it is one factor [on our good performance] this year," said Jarencio after they got their fourth win in eight games.

The gentle giant leads his team in rebounds with 9.7 per outing while averaging 9.1 points after the first round of eliminations. Abdul is currently ranked 11th in the MVP race with 47.2857 SPs.

His journey to UST

In an interview with Yahoo! College Hoops, the towering center said that it was a friend who brought him here in the Philippines and told him about UST.

"UST is a good school that's why I decided to enter it," said the Engineering major.

"Hindi siya pumunta dito para maglaro. Pumunta siya dito para mag-aral," Jarencio stressed. "Mahirap ang Engineering sa UST kaya para ma-maintain mo yung grades mo dapat matalino kang bata."

Abdul also speaks four languages: English, French, one of the hundreds of languages spoken in Cameroon and, lately, Filipino.

Recently, Abdul also submitted documents needed to shake off eligibility issues hanging over his head. His mother braved a 36-hour bus ride to Nigeria to fix his birth certificate and other papers required by the UAAP board.

Prized catch

Jarencio expressed his confidence in Abdul, who was second in the league in rebounds, and called the Cameroonian a "prized catch."

The UST mentor also admires Abdul's presence of mind in the court, especially during tough plays when others would get physical on him.

"Bilib ako dito sa batang ito. Sinasaktan siya, hindi siya nag-re-retaliate," Jarencio said. "Pero tao rin yan… magagalit rin yan. Pero bilib ako sa control ng bata."

Abdul agrees that the league is tough. It's competitive and requires more than just strategy and a skill set.

"I just have to put my heart inside [the game], hustle more, rebound, defend, and score some points," said Abdul. "I think defense is the key. We are more devoted, committed and we work hard. We sacrifice. I just want to see UST in the Final Four."

Hailing from Central Cameroon, the UST big man first shot hoops "just for fun" in playgrounds. But, in the UAAP, he said he learned to play basketball as a team and with a system.

Asked about their team's chances of making it through the playoffs, Abdul is confident but not complacent. "Of course every team has a chance. We just have to play hard and we'll see what happens."

Ateneo is every team's challenge

Like every team in the league, Abdul sees the four-peat seeking Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles as UST's biggest hurdle this Season 74.

"Although we're prepared, Ateneo is a good team. Lots of good players," he admitted. "(Greg) Slaughter is huge and he has had good games."

When the Tigers met the Blue Eagles in the first round, UST went down, 53-66, as the Eagles' highly-touted rookie Kiefer Ravena sank 18 points, five rebounds and six assists throughout the game. Abdul only scored four points as Slaughter clamped on him on defense.

Since then, however, the España-based squad has been successful in shouldering its way forward. Their mission, said the coach, is to keep winning games and eventually enter the Final Four.

"Yung momentum nasa team and at the same time the players are healthy. We have a good chance," Jarencio asserted.

Abdul has a simple request for the UST fans though. "Come and support us so that we can win."

Abdul might just prove to be the Tiger that the black-and-gold has been waiting for so they can finally proclaim to their coach and their compatriots, "Mission accomplished!"