Photo by John Baker/Huskers.com

Abdelmassih Happy To Return to Midwest

By Brian Rosenthal

Matt Abdelmassih (pronounced Abdel-massey) comes to Nebraska after spending the past four seasons at St. John’s, where he recruited all five starters on the 2018-19 team, including two-time, first-team All-BIG EAST selection Shamorie Ponds. He also helped St. John’s land a consensus top-25 recruiting class in 2016, featuring Ponds and junior college transfer Bashir Ahmed. Prior to joining the Red Storm staff, Abdelmassih was at Iowa State from 2010-15, spending his last four seasons as an assistant under Fred Hoiberg. Abdelmassih was instrumental in making Iowa State one of the primary destinations for some of the top transfers in the country, including All-Big 12 performers DeAndre Kane and Royce White, the No. 16 overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft. Abdelmassih visited with Brian Rosenthal of Huskers.com for this QnA about his history with Hoiberg, his recruiting philosophy and his future at Nebraska.

BR: What are your first impressions of Lincoln?

Matt: “Incredible people. They used to call it ‘Iowa Nice,’ so I’ll just say ‘Nebraska nice.’ Just welcoming people. It’s great to be back. It’s great to be back where the air is cleaner. I probably gained a few years back on my life those first 12 hours I was back in Lincoln. But my impressions are ridiculous facilities; clearly the excitement of having a coach like Fred to come in is something special. I think the people here appreciate that and are excited about that, as they should be. For me personally, it’s go time, and you’ve got to get to work. It’s a long road in front of us, but one that you embrace and you’re excited about.”

BR: This has surely been a whirlwind for you, this whole process, but when did Fred contact you, and what decisions did you have to make? How difficult was leaving St. John's?

Matt: “Well, we talk. We’ve been away from each other for four years, because he went to the Bulls and I went to St. John’s. But we talked all the time over those four years. When he got let go, he always talked about options and what could be next, whether this place or that place fit. For me personally, it was extremely difficult to leave St. John’s. It’s home. It’s a place I love. It’s my alma mater. When you care for something as much as I care for St. John’s, it hurts. I was filled with mixed emotions getting on the plane to come. I grew up a St. John’s fan, going to the Garden, watching St. John’s play. To be able to work there four years though, I was grateful. I was grateful for an opportunity to play a role in us getting to the tournament. It’s a dream come true hearing your name called. But very difficult. It will take me a while to get over. I’m leaving behind some incredible players that trusted and believed in me, and that hurts. I’m leaving behind lifelong friendships.”

BR: How far back does your relationship with Fred go? How did you first connect?

Matt: “So it goes back 11 years. We worked with each other with the Timberwolves for two years, and then when he got the Iowa State job, I went with him there. He was in my wedding. He’s a great friend, his family is family to me.”

BR: What impresses you about Fred?

Matt: “Just the intelligence that he has. He’s a guy who works extremely hard at this craft. You always respect that. He’s a guy who’s a student of the game, even though he’s reached the pinnacle of what you want to achieve as a coach. He’s never stopping the learning that he can grow as a coach, and as a person. At the end of the day, when you get to work for a friend more than a boss, that’s always extremely special.”

BR: You’re regarded nationally as a big-time recruiter. How did you earn that label, and what values and traits do you that you believe make you a good recruiter?

Matt: “Just being genuine, I think, is the most important thing. When you’re genuine and you treat people with respect, and you foster a relationship by trust, that’s what’s led me to be able to build really strong relationships, which has helped me get to this point. And ultimately, I’m fortunate enough to have a job and work for a guy I really like, a friend. When you have that, it makes your job easier. Because you believe. I was fortunate enough to work for Chris Mullen, who you believe in, and you work hard for. Those are all special things that make your job easier.”

BR: When you hit the road recruiting, what kind of things will you highlight to recruit to Nebraska?

Matt: “Fred. Experience. NBA. Every kid wants to hear, ‘NBA, NBA, NBA, how do I get there?’ When you have a guy who was a player, a GM and head coach – which, I don’t know if there’s anybody in college basketball who can say that – that’s impactful enough that it allows you the opportunity to get in the door with a lot of kids. Then the biggest thing is trying to get the trust to where they come to campus for a visit, because I feel like if we get kids to visit, we have a great shot of getting them. That’s the key, the hurdle to get over. We’ve got to get them to campus.”

BR: Where do Nebraska’s facilities fit in that regard?

Matt: “Man, they’re amazing. You get (the recruits) here, you don’t even need to talk, just let them walk around and I think they’ll be in awe how incredible they are.”

BR: Do you have a niche for recruiting transfers?

Matt: “I’ve recruited a lot of high school kids as well. Arguably one of the best high school players to ever play at St. John’s, I recruited, Shamorie Ponds. I’ve recruited a lot of high-level high school kids. Transfers, I’ve clearly made a major impact because we were really the first program (at Iowa State) to build a program off of them. And when you have success, my name will forever be attached to a transfer guy. But ultimately, like Fred said, it doesn’t matter where the kids come from – high school, juco, transfer, international – we just want to accumulate the best talent and the most talent.”

BR: What formula do you believe will work here first?

Matt: “Personally, I always go for the adage of get old and stay old. I think it’s a proven fact that it works in college basketball. When you are filled with freshmen with inexperience, it’s extremely difficult to win at the level that we want to. But I also think there’s a nice recipe of experience with youth, and that’s where the balance has to go. To answer that right now, I don’t know where that balance lies.

BR: Did anything from Fred’s news conference stick out to you?

Matt: “Just that he’s a guy who clearly cares and wants to make Nebraska a national brand that it could and should be. That comes across as a striking aspect of who he is and why he took this job. Certainly, he comes across as somebody who family is a huge part of his life, an incredible family, and that part in itself is how he’s going to run his program. It’s a family.”

BR: How do you feel about coming to the Big Ten?

Matt: “It’s a ridiculous conference. It sure as heck’s not easy. Every night is a challenge, 20 times a year. But it’s great. You want to play among the best. It’s certainly one of the best conferences in the country. I’m looking forward to the daily challenges that it provides.”

BR: What do you know about your current roster?

Matt: “Not a ton yet. We played Nebraska last year, and played very well at home. I knew that team. I knew the guys that were seniors (this year) really well because they played a big role last year. The one thing that I admired is literally they never quit. That, to me, is an amazing trait that can carry you to some really big places.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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