College coaches didn't need long to familiarize themselves with the name Esa Ahmad. Versatility and production always have defined the solid power forward's game, and even 18 months ago he already had drawn interest from West Virginia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Dayton, Xavier and Louisville, among others.
I pulled that list of schools from the initial list Ahmad's father, Ibby Ahmad, provided to colleague Brian Snow during his son's sophomore season. It's a significant point because the Mountaineers, which obviously became a frontrunner early in the process, were able to hold on and fend off Ohio State and Maryland.
Defeating the Buckeyes for a native son — and No. 48 overall senior — was a significant accomplishment for Bob Huggins, and now the Mountaineers are primed to suit up a player who could end up starting three or four seasons.
Ahmad's recruitment aside, his performances the past couple years have become increasingly noteworthy. He was outstanding with All-Ohio Red on the EYBL circuit, averaging 13 points per game during 2014 league play along with averages of seven rebounds, three assists and a block.
He's a very gifted all-around player who frequently led his club, given that All-Ohio Red lacked as much elite talent as it has featured in some prior seasons, yet still compiled a 13-3 record during the EYBL regular season and won its division.
Ahmad's contributions manifested emblematically in one contest at this past summer's Peach Jam. Facing the Spiece Indy Heat and massive, elite center Caleb Swanigan, Ahmad turned in of the week's great performances.
He went for 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists on 7-11 shooting, while also defending Swanigan at times and leading All-Ohio Red to a resounding 77-63 victory. More than his statistical averages — which obviously are solid — Ahmad understands when and how to rise to the occasion.
|There's never a concern about whether Ahmad is ready to play|
Ahmad is one of those competitors who understands the nature of the event, not just the superficial matchup that's directly in front of him. Those types of athletes arise in every sport, and in a team setting coaches always love to have them.
But of course, it helps to also be good. Ahmad is highly coordinated for someone who stands 6-8, and he's a capable driver going either right or left. He actually excels slashing left, and most opponents aren't accustomed to defending a 6-8, 210-pound man rushing the rim that hard with his off hand.
He also hits the offensive glass and get some putbacks, and he's an above-average finisher on the break. His passing is outstanding as a hybrid forward, and he slides his feet well laterally and should be able to shine as a high pick and roll defender.
And then those intangibles. Ahmad demonstrates an ability to lift his teammates' effort and confidence, as evidenced by his squad's consistent excellent in EYBL play.
Jump shooting can be problematic. Ahmad shot roughly three long bombs per game, and 26 percent on threes is far too low an accuracy rate given the number of attempts. At WVU, he'll have to improve his shooting or else simply stop taking as many jumpers.
He also struggled from the free throw line, which poses more of a concern given that he's likely to spend more time there than from deep. He shot a ton of free throws — 123 attempts in 21 games — but made just 68 percent, wasting some opportunities.
He's also a good, not great athlete, and thus he doesn't have the margin for error possessed by those who enjoy greater explosiveness.
Ahmad could become a coaches' favorite right away at West Virginia. Given the club's recent struggles the past couple seasons, and especially on defense, his presence in the lineup should provide an immediate boost.
He's also a capable scorer, so even if he plays more of a utility role initially, I expect him to blossom into a complete player during his time in Morgantown.
To ascend to the NBA, he'll likely to improve his shooting substantially given that he's too small to be a full-time post. But his all-around talents are formidable, and even if he remains mostly a non-shooter, he should enjoy a lengthy professional career.