If you’re a casual fan of NBA, you’re probably introduced to Hanif Abdurraqib first as a “Top 5 Prospect for #NBA, NBA 3rd round, will be top 100 or undrafted,” on YouTube, by searching YouTube when you’ve got a bunch of free time, or from radio talk shows and/or game broadcasts. It’s a pretty reliable source, but Abdurraqib might not be one you come across if you’re not an NBA junkie. He’s not an offensive big, or especially intimidating off the dribble, but his defense is solid. He plays, the same way Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina plays. He’s not the kind of player NBA people talk about in the media. He’s not flashy or even pretty. He runs the floor hard, generally rises up for rebounds and then goes back down. It’s not uncommon to hear praise for his defense in his meeting with the media. It’s something that NBA GMs use when the conversation turns to a prospect in an interview.
I first met Abdurraqib in a private gym in New York City a couple of years ago, when he was heading off to play professionally in Belgium. We talked about more than his potential. When I mentioned that my daughter was looking forward to meeting my daughter-in-law, he complimented my daughter-in-law as well. A master of the silent coup, this guy is being judged by his fans, himself, and the NBA execs, he’s not showing any swagger. We shot some video of him at practice and he’s a mix of confidence and respect, especially when he gets on the ball and leads the up-tempo drills, but he’s well aware of his fans and that this is an interview. The way Abdurraqib handles himself on Twitter is also a very calm and respectful way to interact with his fans.
There’s a lot more to Hanif Abdurraqib than his accolades in Belgium. He’s 5’9″ and is a relatively normal-sized swingman. That’s probably the reason he’s most well-known for his defense. Abdurraqib spends a lot of time in the shooting gym, which is necessary if you’re going to play professionally in Europe. He also makes it a point to get extra work in during the days off, but he can laugh about it, he likes to work on his game. He’s very excited to get back on a basketball court for a day next week. Abdurraqib will be one of four American players in Italy, the other three joining Jack McClinton, a senior basketball player at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. He spent six months this year playing professionally in Romania and Italy, which he put on a little pump-fake so you can see he can play.
McClinton is playing for the local London team, Borrego Hellas Apollon, along with teammate Brent Clamburger, who was named ESPN’s player of the week. He joined the team late in the season and has been able to contribute on offense. McClinton also started in the All-Star Game this year. Clamburger averaged 17.2 points and seven rebounds while starting 30 games for Milan U19.
I spoke with a scout for the Blazers about playing overseas, and he also called Abdurraqib the best shooter on the team. But the Portland Trail Blazers have added names like Kay Felder, Pat Connaughton, Noah Vonleh, Brice Johnson, Mamadou Ndiaye, Alonzo Gee, and others. There might not be a need for six or seven players at guard, but the Blazers wouldn’t be so quick to take players like Abdurraqib.