In the years when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was becoming the greatest scorer in NBA history, he was often accompanied to Laker practices by Malek Abdul-Mansour, a friend he met at UCLA.
“I had played at Loyola of Chicago and the team had several guys from New York,” Abdul-Mansour explains. “After I transferred to UCLA I met Kareem, and knowing he was from New York I asked if he knew these guys. He did and we struck up a friendship which still exists. Sometimes we worked out together.”
Abdul-Mansour didn’t play at UCLA, but graduated from there. He benefited from reading John Wooden books, which Abdul-Jabbar offered. Then Abdul-Mansour went into teaching and coaching, and spent 20 years as an assistant to former Bruin guard Bob Webb with the powerful Montclair-Prep boys team in Van Nuys before coaching the junior varsity at New Roads.
When Kevin Cormier resigned at Crossroads following last year’s CIF championship season Abdul-Mansour applied.
Last month he was hired.
The majority of players from the Roadrunners’ squad return, but the team has been moved up one division, which will make competition tougher. Instead of playing again in the Delphic League, the Roadrunners will compete in the Alpha League.
“We had quite a few applicants and narrowed the field to 15,” said Crossroads athletic director Chuck Ice. “Then eight were interviewed and we chose three finalists.”
Ice said Crossroads is fortunate to have Abdul-Mansour coaching girls basketball now. “We”re real fortunate to get a guy with Malek”s background,” said Ice.
“We knew of his friendship with Kareem and his many years of coaching and we also received a letter of recommendation from Marques Johnson.
“We hope he’ll stay for many years because stability is important and he’ll be the third coach in three years for our girls basketball team.”
Cormier resigned after one season. Danielle Minton coached the team the previous season.
Despite the coaching changes, this group of players has produced exceptional results. Crossroads reached the CIF 5-A playoff semi-finals when the team was guided by Minton, then won Crossroads’ first-ever CIF championship in girls basketball when coached by Cormier.
The most prominent returnees are Nadine Byers, Megan Baer, Kristina Murray and Shannon McQueen, but Alexa Palacios has transferred to Beverly Hills. The championship team had two seniors who were key reserves, Jessy Ekstein and Channer Miller.
“Defense is very important to me,” said Abdul-Mansour. “It creates easy offense. I favor a man to man defense applying pressure to the opponent and then a fast break.”
Abdul-Mansour has selected one assistant, Mark Smith.