Abdul-Malik Abu back at NC State to be a part of something special in Raleigh

After spurning the NBA draft earlier this year, Abu discusses what brought him back along with his life as a Muslim athlete

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Seen in a double exposure created in camera

After spurning the NBA draft earlier this year, Abu discusses what brought him back along with his life as a Muslim athleteFor a few weeks this offseason, Abdul Malik-Abu threatened to blow up the prospects of NC State’s 2016-17 season. The junior forward put his name in the 2016 NBA Draft and floated in the terrifying — for fans of the Wolfpack — limbo between returning to school and turning pro.Abu eventually pulled his name out of the draft, completing an incredible offseason for NC State coach Mark Gottfried, one that began with multiple transfers (the Martin twins) and ended with Ted Kapita and Omer Yurtseven gaining eligibility to join Dennis Smith and Abu as the core of a very impressive team.The North State Journal sat down with Abu recently to talk about his offseason decisions, dealing with the spotlight being spread around, his burgeoning rap career and the Wolfpack’s expectations for the season.What was the biggest reason for your return this season?I felt like we had a great team, a great family and I wanted to be a part of something special. I felt like if I passed this up, I’d regret it the rest of my life.What did you take away from the NBA draft process last year?I learned how hard you have to work if you want to play at that level. With their practices and things of that nature, I really saw just how difficult it can be. It showed me the level that I have to be at to make it, and I didn’t feel like I was quite there yet.Being the lone big man to start the season and in the Paradise Jam, how much has that changed your game?It’s helped me have a mindset to compete as hard as I can and stay at the best level I can. It’s made me learn that I have to get it done every time and I can’t rely on someone else to pick up the slack for me.How do you feel about relinquishing some of the rebounds to Omer Yurtseven?It happens all the time [during exhibition games]. Sometimes I let it go, other times nah. I was like, ‘Your time will come, young Padawan.’ [Laughs] Don’t steal my rebounds just yet.You lose him for this weekend, but how much does having Ted Kapita back help this team?It’s big time, man. Ted’s a great player who adds depth to our team. He makes us that much better. I think people are finally seeing how good he can be. We knew that for a long time. Darius [Hicks] is a great player, too. The young guys on this squad are full of energy and helping us compete every day.What’s your biggest hobby away from the gym?I like to listen to music and make music. Just relax.So when’s the album dropping?It’s coming out soon. I don’t know. I don’t want to do any drops during the season, I don’t want ya’ll to hear that. I want to stay focused on basketball. But I may drop a single. Something may be coming. I want to release an album, but you have to drop some singles first. Let people know the storm’s coming.What do you make of the nickname “Sweetheart” from [Mark] Gottfried and what was behind the “Bully” moniker?Yeah, last year coach had a lot of fun with that. [Laughs] I guess he cracked on me once and everybody ran with it. He thought I was too nice, but I didn’t think I was. He’s calling me Bully now because he’s realizing I’m not nice.Where did the Bully come from?It came from me, Dennis [Smith], BeeJay [Anya] and Terry [Henderson] all creating a bully culture. We’re going to be the bullies this season. It’s not even me. I can’t even take credit for it. BeeJay gave it to me and now it’s a cohesive group.How much would you compare the hype of this season to your freshman year?The hype is a lot different. I feel like people didn’t think we were going to be that good either. But then we showed them. We beat some good teams. I feel like people this year are a little bit more aware of what we have, but they’re still not sure. So now it’s our job to go out there every night and prove what we know — that we’re going to be a great team and go far.Being a Muslim athlete, what are some of the difficulties that go along with that?It’s not really difficult for me. I feel like our society has made it difficult for people that aren’t me. I’ve been blessed to be in this situation to play Division I college basketball. The people here in Raleigh and other places I feel like embrace me. I’ve never felt any hatred or anything, but I can’t speak for everybody.Times are changing and people just need to be more aware. I feel like coming together and being positive is the best thing we can do.The passing of Deah Barakat, his wife and her sister in Chapel Hill brought out a different side of you. How much does that still play into the way you live your life and the way you play?You can’t take anything for granted, you know? What’s here today can be gone tomorrow. That goes for anything, not just life. I just try to thank God for every chance I get and try to live my life day-by-day.What are your personal and team expectations for this season?My expectations every year are to win a National Championship. Every time I lace it up, I want to go out there and win. That’s our only goal. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there, but it’s something I feel we can do.