Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)
When you know, you know. That becomes even more ingrained in the minds of high school basketball players deciding on their futures when a pandemic has run rampant for a year and a half, potentially threatening college opportunities.
For Imhotep rising senior Mo Abdullah, he knew Rider was the right choice for him to continue his basketball and academic careers after one visit, committing to join the Broncs July 31.
Mo Abdullah averaged double-digit points last season for Imhotep, which won its fourth Philadelphia Public League championship in the last five years. (Photo credit: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Since I already liked (Rider) and felt welcomed there,” Abdullah said. “I had to secure that scholarship.”
The versatile wing has steadily been growing his game at the powerhouse Imhotep. Last season’s Panthers were arguably head coach Andre Noble’s most inexperienced team; there were no seniors on the roster. Abdullah, along with classmates Naji Reid, Shakur Smith and Ronny Raphael, and underclassmen Rahmir Barno and Justin Edwards, went 14-0 and won the Philadelphia Public League championship, Imhotep’s fourth in the past five seasons.
Unfortunately, the three-time defending PIAA Class 4A champion Panthers didn’t get a chance to defend their throne when a teammate got COVID-19 and the season was shut down. Abdullah is confident the team would have won a fourth straight state title.
Abdullah might not be as high-profile of a recruit as his younger teammates Barno and Edwards, who each have more than a handful of Division I offers on the table. That doesn’t lessen Abdullah’s importance to Imhotep or potential at the next level.
“We had four guys that averaged double-digits this year,” Noble said. “Mo was one of them. Some days he led us in scoring. He’s not just a glue guy. He can do that, but he has the potential to do way more than that. I think he has the potential to be a great basketball player, and Rider is a great place for him.”
Abdullah averaged 10.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 38% from 3-point range and 57% from inside the arc during his junior season. He played AAU with NJ Scholars, but did not get much playing time in a guard-heavy team including top 2023 recruits D.J. Wagner and Mackenzie Mgbako. Still, he stuck it out and said he enjoyed the experience as there wasn’t any AAU team that could get him more exposure. He just wished he played more.
He received interest from Delaware, Mount Saint Mary’s, Old Dominion, Rhode Island, Rider, Robert Morris, Saint Peter’s and Tulsa, but solely visited Rider in June. Shortly after, Rider and Saint Peter’s both offered him. Abdullah committed to Rider a month later.
Rider was there from the beginning, and that meant a lot. The campus is only 45 minutes from Philadelphia, and the Broncs have a heavy recruiting presence in the area. Abdullah also has a strong relationship with the coaching staff, including head coach Kevin Baggett, who hails from Burlington, N.J., and played for Saint Joseph’s.
Abdullah could’ve waited to show an improved game during his senior season but decided to secure his future before any unforeseen circumstances possibly took that away. He had to balance taking what he had and betting that more interest would come in if he waited, risky business with a pandemic still ongoing.
Noble expects to see an even better player in his senior season and at Rider, citing Abdullah’s weight-room work ethic and a frame that allows him to put on more muscle. If anyone has an eye for analyzing talent, it’s Noble, who has recently coached high-level Division I players including Elijah Taylor (Notre Dame), Donta Scott (Maryland), Fatts Russell (Rhode Island/Maryland), Dahmir Bishop (Xavier/Saint Joseph’s) and David Beatty (South Carolina/La Salle).
“When I sat down with him after our season and watched what Mo had done his junior year, I just thought that’s what Division I players look like,” Noble said. “He’s got size and athleticism, 6-4, lefty, can shoot it in the midrange and from three. He can finish at the rim, plays above the rim and he’s a really good defender.”
Abdullah also said he wanted to work on being a leader this season, emphasizing being more vocal, something he will get an opportunity to do as a senior. He also wants to become even more versatile, which he thinks will help him when he becomes a Bronc.
“I want to be a better point guard,” Abdullah said. “I’m not going to be a big wing at the next level. I need to work on controlling the vibes on the court. I need to get my ball handling better.”
Abdullah looks to bring his knack for winning to a Rider squad that went 6-17 (5-13 MAAC) last season, the school’s first losing season since 2016, and get back to the Broncs’ winning ways. The 2019-20 team went 18-12 (12-8 MAAC) and were the No. 3 seed before COVID-19 stopped the MAAC championships. Baggett has won MAAC Coach of the Year twice, in 2015 and 2018, and has compiled a 147-134 record in nine seasons as head coach.