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Basketball player Jabbi exudes energy, integrity, purpose on and off court

Graduate student and basketball player Mahamoud Jabbi has blazed a unique path to get to Binghamton University.

October 20, 2010

Basketball player Jabbi exudes energy, integrity, purpose on and off court

Graduate student and basketball player Mahamoud Jabbi has blazed a unique path to get to Binghamton University. From the western African country of Gambia to New York City to SUNY Oswego and now Binghamton, Jabbi has embraced life’s challenges and maintained a strong sense of family, discipline and above all, character. Entering his final season of basketball in 2010-11, Jabbi answered some questions about his background, his basketball and his future pursuits.

Your family moved from Gambia to NYC when you were 9 years old ... what do you remember about growing up in Gambia?
I still remember pretty much everything about Gambia because my parents do a great job of keeping our local customs. So even though I did my teen years in the United States I was raised the traditional Gambian way. Everything from the food to dressing to just how you interact with others is all based on Gambian customs. English is my second language. My parents and I only speak Soninke and all the other members of my family do not speak English so Soninke is the only form of communication.

Do you still have relatives there? Have you been gone back to visit since?
Ninety percent of my family still lives there. My dad has two houses there. My brother actually just came to the United States in 2006 and my sisters came last year. I went back to visit in 2004 but because of basketball and other obligations I am not able to go more often. All my cousins still live there and we talk on a weekly basis.

What was that adjustment like for a young boy and for your family - to move to the Bronx?
It was really tough because the year iIcame was the summer of 1995, which was the heat wave. So I wasn’t used to that type of heat with the amount of people around me at all times. Then the winter of ‘95 was one of the biggest blizzards in recent history, which happened to be my first time ever seeing snow. Then with the culture shock of not speaking English and all these new foods, it was really rough. It was difficult for my parents to go from a place where people are more friendly to New York City where everyone is on the go and no one really has time for anyone. As time went on, I was able to adjust and try to see the common interest the other kids and I had, which made things easier. Until this day, I am still adjusting going from a shy person to being more outgoing. It’s a work in progress.

How old were you when you started playing basketball? What individuals helped shape your game?
I started playing basketball when I was 16. That was the first time I picked up a basketball. It was JV tryouts for my high school team and all my friends were doing it and they convinced me to do it as well. My mother didn’t let me go outside much so that was my only chance to go out it - either go to the tryout or come right back home to study. The tryout was the worst experience of my life! I didn’t understand the basic rules of the game such as where to line up for a free throw, what counts as a walk, or foul. I never really struggled to pick things up ... most things came easy for me to learn such as computers or school work. The JV coach, Mr. Milani, was really patient with me and broke down the game in the simplest of terms. He told me, “This is our basket ... if anyone tries to put the ball through it knock it out.” My JV team did really well ... we went 10-2 that year. But I realized role players didn’t get any girls so that summer I put all my energy into getting better. I would be in the park from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. just playing pick-up and learning how others were doing things. But the single biggest factor in shaping my game is Mr Rich Kosik. Throughout the years he has served as my mentor and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He went above and beyond to help me get to where I am today and for that I am forever indebted to him.

What other sports did you play growing up?
I played baseball since that was the closest thing to my house. I couldn’t leave past the corner so I learned to pitch and enjoyed doing that until all the kids
started getting bigger and I knew it was time to get out.

Who is your favorite NBA player and why?
My favorite player of all time is Dennis Rodman. No matter what outside distractions or crassness he had going on he came to work every day. A lot of the great players give him the ultimate compliment - they would rather have him on their team then play against him. I believe when your peers give you that kind of respect you’re doing something right. Out of the current players playing today I would have to say Chris Bosh and Tayshaun Prince because they are both really long and skinny but play bigger then they are. Plus they are lefties.

Why did you choose Binghamton after being at Oswego for two years?
I chose Binghamton because I knew the amount of respect a degree from Binghamton commanded. Knowing that a degree from here would be respected across the nation and can compete with any college or university was too good to pass up. Basketball was an afterthought ... all I wanted to do was put myself in the best position to gain the maximum earning power when I was done with my four years. It’s a tough world out there and if your degree does not stand under the pressure you will not get access to the best possible jobs. So my move to Binghamton was to secure my family and I a better future. I loved it at Oswego ... the people there were great. I loved my teammates and classmates and I even found the first girl I ever loved. But I gave up all that comfort just to come gain a degree from here. It’s a decision I will have to live with. My girlfriend became an ex- girlfriend and some friends became enemies but it was all worth it in the end.

What are the primary differences between Division III basketball and Division I?
The primary difference I see between Division I and D-III sports is the amount of funding and allowed time you have to work out. At Oswego I played against a lot of players who could’ve played D-I but sometimes you’re just not seen or did not go to the right high school. Of course people are bigger and stronger at this level but the skill level is not as far off as people might think.

How would you assess your game thus far this year? What things have you worked on in the off-season?
I have always prided myself on not being outworked. That’s how I approach the game. But this season I have incorporated a lot more shooting into my game and I can read situations better now. Coach Macon, Coach Anderson, Coach Smith and Coach Brown have all been giving me advice on how to improve my game. The focus for me this year is to just slow down and not be in a rush. Every drill I did in the off-season was to go at a good pace and shoot when I feel comfortable. I’ve also worked on ball handing, passing and reading when to make the correct play. In the weight room I’ve worked on my core and my upper body to get as strong as possible and also work on being a better leader.

What personal and team goals do you have for the season?
Our goal as a team is to be in the hunt come March. That is the collective mindset of everyone. We are all focused on putting in the work now to make it to March. That’s the only goal we have ... to get better every day and push one another and do what we have to do to make sure come March we are right there. My personal goals this year are to become Defensive Player of the Year and to lead the league in rebounds. I haven’t been shy about letting my teammates know that. I don’t care about any other statistical category because I know defense leads to championships and that’s all I want.

How has your game improved in each of your three collegiate seasons?
When I first came to college I was not much of a basketball player. I was more of just an athlete. My understanding of the game has improved with each passing season. Just being around better players, I have been able to model some of their work ethics or drills and incorporated them into my game. This year I feel I have grown as a player and as a man because of the things I went through at both D-I and D-III. My leadership skills have improved and just having a better understanding of my body has allowed me to get better as a player.

What are the most enjoyable things about playing basketball at Binghamton?
The best part of playing basketball at Binghamton is the fans. You know you will always play in a packed arena and people truly care about you as a person. It’s a small town with a big time atmosphere and nothing is better then that.

What are some things most people don’t realize about being a student-athlete? What is most challenging about the sport of basketball and what do you love the most about the sport?
What people don’t realize about being a student-athlete is the amount of work that goes into what we do before we ever actually play a game. Most people think it’s all fun and games but there is nothing fun about 5:30 a.m. wake up to come practice and then go to class. But it’s what you have to do if you want to be successful. The most challenging part about basketball is the mental aspect of the game. At this level everyone can jump, run, and shoot but it’s how you mentally approach the game that will determine if you will be okay, good, or great. I love the friendships that are formed after being on a team with someone. Being a shy nerdy kid from the Bronx ... basketball has given me a chance to meet people from all walks of life.

How have the BU coaches helped you with your game?
The coaches at BU are not only basketball coaches But they are life coaches. They are here to help us become the best men we can be and the best basketball players we can be. I view all of them as father figures because they are getting us ready for the real world. I love everything they do for us and they truly love us back. This is not just a team ... it’s a family.

What did you learn from all-conference forward and now professional player Reggie Fuller during your redshirt season?
The most important thing I learned from Reggie is to come to work every day no matter how your personal life is. Reggie brought the intensity to practice every single day. He put in the work to become the player that the fans saw on game nights. He worked himself to death to make sure no one would out-work him in the games. Just being consistent and being professional in how you treat people. There isn’t one person you can find on this campus who didn’t like Reggie because he was always humble and approachable. Those are the things I took from him.

What was that experience like - to be part of that 2008-09 championship team but not able to compete in games?
The experience of being on a championship team and not being able to compete is one of the hardest things I ever went through in my life, but also the most rewarding. Since I could not compete in games I treated practice as my game. I went out there every day with the mindset that since I couldn’t be in games I was going to push those guys to become better every day. I wasn’t going to cheat the team by not pushing myself as well as every player. Every drill was treated as a Final Four game for me. I went with all the energy I had in me to make sure if a guy was slacking he was going to get out-played. On the scout team whatever player I was asked to be I did it to the best of my ability to give guys an actual example of what they might see in the game. That experience taught me that to gain respect from your teammates and coaches you have to go out and earn it and it has built my character as a person.

You were counted on to play a pivotal role last season with the late roster changes ... how did you approach the season, knowing the team needed you to be a starter and leader?
Last year I just viewed it as I came to work every day ready to compete and lead by example. It was one thing to tell guys to play harder if I am in the back of the line but if they see that I am working, people will follow. I felt last year it took us a little while to gel as a team but we were better than what our final record said. The sting of not being able to compete in the tournament serves as a reminder of how hard we have to work to get to where we need to be. We have high expectations for this season.

What are your career goals after Binghamton?
My career goals after Binghamton is to finish my master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration and then hopefully come back to Binghamton doing something in athletics. This place has a hold on me. But I would also like to play a few seasons overseas if possible, just for the experience. But as of right now I am open to all careers. Who knows where I will end up but as long as I am helping people I will be happy.

How hard is it to juggle academics and basketball and still enjoy life
as a college student? What advice would you give high schoolers or
younger on how to balance everything?

The most important thing is to know where you want to go and understand getting there will not be easy. Along the way you may have to miss some parties or hanging out with girls to get things done. It’s understanding that your goals come first and everything else is second. It’s important to just stay grounded and have great people around you to guide you along the way.

What have you learned about yourself during these last few years?
I have learned through the years that if I put my mind to something there is very little I cannot do. It’s a matter of putting in the work needed to get things done. I always tell my teammates I come from a family of farmers - so hard work is in my blood.

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