SOR: Do you have any special memories of the Barn?
Abdel: Oh yeah. One of the things that I remember is the closeness of the fans. You couldn't even in-bound the ball too well without telling everyone to move back. The cheers, when we would have one of our runs, when we'd steal the ball two or three times, and the crowd would roar, it would send chills through your body. The falling of the paint chips - that was unique. I don't think too many places could do that anymore.
I remember as a freshman, it was maybe after the seventh or eighth game, we started seeing people camping out in the lobby area, sleeping overnight, and I found that kind of strange as to why these people were sleeping out, looking for tickets. I never heard of such a thing, especially coming from the high school that I came from (Belleville). Basketball wasn't a tradition - wrestling and baseball, that was their forte. For me to come from Belleville to Rutgers, and seeing the hoopla and dedication that the fans had, in many ways, I mean to sleep overnight to get tickets, that was kind of amazing to me.
SOR: Well I think now we can begin to put it in perspective: it was a small place, the team was very good. I mean, imagine if Duke played in a place that was 2,500 people.
Coming out of Belleville - how many other schools were you recruited by?
Abdel: I was recruited by Boston College, U of Hawaii, U of Detroit - these were the schools I had narrowed it down to. But I had actually signed with Manhattan College. I had signed to go there, maybe about two days later I had a talk with a one-on-one talk with the coach, and I told him of some of my concerns with the campus life there. I wasn't real happy from my visitors point of view, with the campus life. And I expressed my concerns with him, his name was Jack Powers. I explained my circumstances, and he kind of blew me off, like "You shouldn't be concerned about that. You should be concerned about the academics and the basketball program".
And I think if he would have just taken the time to talk with me, just to say "I understand your concerns, we'll try to make your stay here as pleasant as possible", just tell me about the campus, and not just discard what I said, and address my issues So I didn't really feel that was right. I was kind of bothered by that, so I talked to my high school coach about it. We narrowed it down to three schools: Boston College, Fordham, and Rutgers. We did kind of an impromptu survey, as far as points, and Rutgers came out on top.
SOR: Was Tom Young your lead recruiter?
Abdel: Well, Tom Young, Joe Boylan, he was there. He had a couple of players come by the house. Hollis Copeland, he came by, even JJ Jennings, the football player, he came by my house too, to talk to me about the university. I saw Tom at a few all-star games, and we talked.
SOR: That was a two-man class, correct? You and James Bailey, right?
SOR: Not a bad duo.
Abdel: Looking back on it, when I was a freshman, it seemed like things came with, it appeared, with ease. We worked hard; I mean we really worked hard in practice, James and I and the rest of the team, even the guys that were the second or third team. I mean, our practices were so aggressive, it wasn't unheard of for somebody to get a busted lip or come out bleeding, and we had people that would get thrown out of practice because our practices were so intense. With the practices we had, you had to come out a winner, and looking at teams now, college basketball or high school, I don't see a whole lot of dedication like we had back then. Granted, there are a lot of college teams that do quite well, and I haven't see every collegiate practice in America, but for some of the practices I did watch (and I coached high school basketball), in order to have an effective practice like we had back then, we had to be willing to give up something, meaning you had to give up your own egos.
You have to say "Look, your position is here, you're the 8th man on the team, or the 9th man on the team - but it's your job to make the 1st team better". And there aren't a lot of kids in different sports that are willing to give up there own egos.
SOR: To change gears for a moment, we'll get back to this, but I have
to ask before I forget - where did you prefer to play at - the RAC or the Barn?
Abdel: Quite honestly, the Barn. I know by today's standards, you need a bigger arena but there is no place like the Barn. The people are so close to you, the roar of the crowd, and I think the majority of people would say, at least during my time, that they would prefer to play at the Barn. Just the atmosphere, you could feel it, even in the city of New Brunswick
SOR: No doubt you've heard the talk about a new arena. How do you feel
about that? Should they just expand the RAC, or build a new arena in downtown
Abdel: I think downtown New Brunswick would be a good spot. First of all, I wouldn't want anything to happen to the Barn, if they chose to build it there. I think transportation-wise it would be good to have it in the city. Just like they have the Prudential Center now in Newark, you know it's great for Seton Hall. People come, take a train, whether it be the shuttle, or even walk. It's a great place to be.
SOR: I've been there, it's nice.
Abdel: Yeah, it's a shame Seton Hall got it (mutual laughter) Granted, I am a little torn. It would be great to have something on campus, but by today's standards you've got to have a bigger arena, and I don't know if the campus has the room.
SOR: How was recruiting back then? Was it as cut-throat as it is now?
Abdel: I think it was. Back then they have a lot more rules now then they had back then. Back then you go on as many visits as you wanted. I know its five official visits now. I went to about five or six different schools, I even went to Seton Hall, but I'm from Belleville, so I just rode up there myself and talked to the coach and the athletic director.
SOR: They were recruiting you as well?
Abdel: Yeah. That was when Bill Raftery was the coach. Yeah, I'm sure that schools - maybe not the same schools that I had visited - but you hear talk about athletes getting something under the table, this that or the other. I don't know what they're doing now. I have a tendency to believe it's a little more commercialized if you will. You know, they didn't do anything like they do now, where if a kid goes to a school, if he goes to a football game, the crowd will yell the kids name and start chanting, "We want so-and-so". They didn't do any of that back then. You went to the campus, you visited for the weekend, you may have went to a football game, and the decision was your decision, more or less. There wasn't all that extra commercialized attention.
SOR: Nowadays with recruiting, and the rise of the sneaker camps and
year-round AAU ball, and with more kids coming from single-parent homes, you
have to figure out who to talk to, who to go through, who's pulling the strings.
Is it the high school coach? Is it the AAU coach? Is it some family "advisor",
some "uncle"? I have a feeling it wasn't quite so complicated back
Abdel: No, not at all.
SOR: Also, now, kids are more like celebrities now coming out of high
school. Plus with the sneaker deals, you know, are you an Adidas school, are
you a Nike School? Kids in a sense are already getting paid.
Abdel: Sure, sure. It's tough for a kid. You have things like that, and then you have the parents that are involved in a way, even at a younger age, with hopes and dreams that their kid will become a pro one day. I have a ten-year old son, and I coach his baseball team, and he plays Pop Warner football. You talk to some of these parents, and to other coaches about some of the situations they've been involved in, and how the parents get involved with a ten-year old, a twelve-year old, much more so now than back in my day.
SOR: Yeah, nowadays you hear a lot more about some parent attacking
their kids coach.
Abdel: Yeah! It's tough for a kid nowadays. They don't know which way to go. Should they listen to a parent, a coach? With some of these younger coaches - and I say younger because I'm from the old school - do what I ask you to do. Don't ask a lot of questions. Trust me. There aint a lot of blind trust nowadays as far as coaching.
SOR: That's a great quote.
Abdel: Kids nowadays are so bent on the idea of making it to the pros, and they don't know what it takes to work. It's like people in general nowadays. They want to get out the easy way, they don't want to work hard. They look at something like basketball, this "And One" basketball, with guys dribbling between their legs, but those guys paid the price where they worked hard and can do these things.