Abdullah Olajuwon

Clements' Abdullah Olajuwon sizes up a defender during a Jan. 22 game against Bush. Olajuwon, whose father is former Houston Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon, said his confidence has been a key reason for the growth of his game. (Photo by Landan Kuhlmann)

Van Price always knew Abdullah Olajuwon’s raw skill set was special – he just needed an extra ingredient to take his game to the next level.

He appears to have found it this season, and has been one of the key factors for the Rangers amassing a 21-7 overall record so far this season along with a 5-3 mark in District 20-6A as they seek the program’s first playoff berth since 2014-2015.

“Having the skill set to go along with the confidence is the best combination for anyone," Price said. "He’s more relaxed on the floor this year. He had the same skill set last year, he just didn’t have the confidence to go with it.”

On the surface, the 17-year-old Olajuwon might not appear to have any reason to lack confidence. He is the oldest son of former Houston Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon, an NBA Hall of Famer who was a 12-time all-star and the 1993-1994 NBA Most Valuable Player.

But the younger Olajuwon has actually only been working at the sport for about five years, and did not grow up playing it. He was born in Jordan, a Middle-Eastern country just east of Israel, in 2004 before moving to England when he was 10 years old. And growing up, soccer was his first love despite his dad being one of the most well-known basketball players of all time.

“Over there, everyone played soccer," he said of Jordan. "I tried out for a soccer team, and I made it. So I was just playing soccer for so long. Then we moved to London, and that’s the biggest sport. Everybody wanted to play it, and so that’s what I did.”

But basketball was always lurking, he said, at his dad’s urging. And once he played for the first time around age 12, he was hooked.

“My dad always told me that basketball was where it is – I had the size and I had the strength, and he just saw the potential,” the younger Olajuwon said. “And he just kept telling me to play. Then once I tried it, I completely fell in love with the game.”

What began as playing with his two younger brothers in the backyard has now morphed into a love of a game in which Olajuwon excels. He’s averaging about 11 points and close to 10 rebounds per game as a starter for the Rangers, who have already won their most games since that 2013-2014 campaign.

After moving to the United States in 2019, he played at Houston’s Village School his sophomore season before coming to Sugar Land and Clements two seasons ago. And the atmosphere with the Rangers, he said, helped him gain the confidence to take his game to a new level.

“I really feel like I’ve grown as a player these last couple of years, just because I’ve had a lot of coaches teaching me different things and little things that matter – a lot of things I didn’t know that could actually affect the game,” he said. “…All of that just comes together and creates the player I am.”

Olajuwon said Price and his Clements teammates have been a big reason for the development of his confidence, and in turn, his game.

“(Coach Price) is pushing me to my limit, making me do things I didn’t think I could do myself,” Olajuwon said. “He puts confidence in me to do things I didn’t know I could do… We’re always working hard here, and we go at it together – it feels like a family, so there’s a good bond. This is the best team I’ve played for. I love this team.”

New tricks

The a 6-foot-3 slasher, whom Price described as a jack of all trades that can do most anything asked of him on the court, has a wealth of basketball knowledge at his disposal. But he also has different skill sets than his father did, and has molded himself into a unique player on the court, according to his coach.

Price also said Olajuwon has always had raw skill, and been coachable from the moment he got to Clements. So it was less about teaching him anything new and more about helping him to find faith in his own ability.

“His confidence level wasn’t anywhere near what it is now (last season)," Price said. "He’s seen that he can get some things done on the court, so his confidence has really grown.  He works hard, and he enjoys basketball – so coaching him is easy.”

A big part of that work ethic, Olajuwon said, is a lesson he took from his dad to trust in the process and work he puts in. Further, his confidence is at least partly fueled by encouragement from his father to be his own player – not least of all because there’s a difference between playing center as his father did, and being a perimeter player like the younger Olajuwon.

“Obviously my dad has the experience – so he tells me what to do, and I’ve seen the results,” he said. “…When he watches me play, he doesn’t necessarily criticize me. He tells me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong –  I’ve just got to take it the right way. And he always tells me I’m my own person, so that helps a lot.”

The growing confidence appears to be paying dividends for both Olajuwon and the Rangers, who are seeking the program’s first playoff berth in eight seasons. And if they do make it, Olajuwon will be a key piece of the puzzle.

“He’s realizing that it’s just basketball and it’s not open heart surgery,” Price said. “So he’s getting some things done.”

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