When Mustafa Abdul-Hamid made the winning basket for UCLA against Washington Thursday night, he did much more than upgrade his status on the team.
Abdul-Hamid instantly became the symbol of a walk-on who can pass up scholarship players with hard work and determination.
He gives players in that category in every sport at every school hope. If he can do that at such a highprofile institution as UCLA, others can do it everywhere.
“He’s the hardest working player I’ve had in my 29 years of coaching,” said UCLA’s Ben Howland. “I couldn’t be any happier for an individual.”
UCLA, struggling through a dismal season, was on the verge of losing again until Abdul-Hamid sank a 20-foot jump shot as time ran out, giving the Bruins a 62-61 victory.
On Saturday, Abdul-Hamid moved into Howland’s substitution rotation, played 18 minutes, and scored nine points in a win over Washington State.
“He’s earning his keep,” said Howland, and it’s likely Abdul-Hamid will continue playing when injured guard Jerime Anderson returns from a hip flexor injury.
Once a player walks on at a university it becomes well known he doesn’t have a scholarship. Those players round out a squad by helping in practice. Few get into games except in the final minutes of a blowout.
Abdul-Hamid is a 6-foot-2 guard who was an A student at Country Day High in St. Louis and a good enough player to be eyed by some universities. He was strongly considering Harvard until deciding to walk on at UCLA.
Howland quickly realized Abdul-Hamid was better than the usual walk-on, but that didn’t translate to playing time. So Abdul-Hamid redshirted one year, then spent the last two at the end of the Bruins’ bench.
This season, when Jrue Holiday left early for the NBA, Abdul-Hamid was given a scholarship. Still, he was behind Michael Roll, Malcolm Lee and Anderson in the backcourt and not in the coach’s plans.
Anderson’’s recent injury opened up a few minutes and Abdul-Hamid played a prominent role for the first time. On Thursday, he ended up with the ball, fired away and became a hero.
“After seeing that, I realized this is why I want my kids to play sports,” said Don McLean, UCLA’s all-time leading scorer and now a broadcaster. “You learn lessons that carry you through life.”
Abdul-Hamid helps in several ways. He’s sturdier than Anderson and a stronger defender. As a redshirt junior he brings experience that’s welcomed on a young team. He can play both guard positions, serving adequately at the point and making shots. On Saturday he made a couple of three-pointers in the first half.
Abdul-Hamid is the biggest story of the UCLA season so far. Walk-ons everywhere should be proud.
Mirror Sports Editorsports@smmirror.com