When University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino first announced the signing of Anas Mahmoud there was a thought among many that the freshman big man from Cairo, Egypt would be a candidate to redshirt this season with the goal of bulking up and becoming accustomed to the college style of play.
That possibility decreased with each passing practice and scrimmage. The Cardinals Hall of Fame coach liked how well the 7-footer moved on the floor, but he needed him to become a consistent presence in the lane.
“He tries to push me every practice to play harder and consistent,” Mahmoud said. “He trusts what I can do, but it's about doing every single time on the floor. He knows that I can block shots, but he wants me to jump every time, so he wants me to work on my consistency because every possession is important to the team.”
On Monday night against 14th-ranked Ohio State, Mahmoud would be thrust into a key role for the Cardinals. Starting center Chinanu Onuaku picked up a couple quick fouls and Mangok Mathiang was slowed by a bum ankle.
Playing 24 minutes in the 64-55 win over the visiting Buckeyes, Mahmoud wasn't much of an offensive threat, scoring just three points, all from the free throw line, but he contributed in other ways. He finished with 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, with just one turnover.
“I was trying to fly around, do closeouts and do every thing that I can to help the team,” he said.
All-American forward Montrezl Harrell was impressed by how Mahmoud performed in his biggest outing of his young career.
“He really played his part,” said Harrell. “He didn't try to do to much. He didn't come in looking to make a spectacular play. He came in, got into the flow of the game, blocked some shots and gave us some great minutes off the bench. We're going to need that from him down the road because it goes to show you that even when you get certain people in foul trouble that we have people who can come, contribute and help us out.”
A question mark coming into the season, the progression of Mahmoud, as well as fellow freshmen big men Onuaku and Matz Stockman has Pitino feeling much about the Cardinals capabilities down low.
“I love our big guys,” said Pitino. “I love Anas, I love Matz and I love Nanu. I think all three are going to develop into big time basketball players someday. I'm excited about their potential.”