Last March, Kansas State’s Ismael Massoud faced uncertainty.
His first season in his new home of Manhattan (Kansas) was not so good in the Big XII rude, as the Wildcats finished 14-17 and with the resignation of coach Bruce Weber, he was facing another regime change after transferring from Wake. Forest.
After Jerome Tang took over the program, things didn’t start well for the 6-8 junior, who struggled to get consistent minutes off the bench after starting 18 games last season.
Fast forward to Thursday night at the Sweet 16 and third-seeded Kansas State doesn’t advance without Massoud’s clutch shot in a 98-93 overtime win over seventh-seeded Michigan State.
Massoud scored 15 points, including a huge baseline jumper that gave the Wildcats (26-9) a three-point lead with 12.7 seconds remaining, putting his team 40 minutes behind the game. Final Four. Kansas State will need every part of those 40 minutes against Florida Atlantic (34-3) in Saturday’s Elite Eight matchup.
“For me, I understood that it was a different situation, a different role,” said Massoud, who also went 4-for-6 from 3-point range on Thursday. “People are able to grow and understand and comprehend things at different times. So it took me a little bit longer to understand what the coaching staff wanted from me… But I realized that this team was winning and I just wanted to be a part of it. And I knew that I could help and I knew that I could play an important role for this team.”
Massoud’s role has also been important off the field for Kansas State. At one point, he and his roommate Markquis Nowell were the only two scholarship players left on the roster. Friends since Massoud was 15, the two now represent New York in the best light on the city’s biggest basketball stage. It’s part of what made coming to Kansas State worthwhile in the first place.
“Kansas State plays in the best league in the country,” Massoud said of a program that has been to the Final Four four times, most recently 59 years ago. “And just the history of the school, it’s a great university, first and foremost. And then Manhattan, Kansas, is one of the happiest places in the world. Just being in that environment, seeing the Octagon of Doom and the opportunity it presented to me to go out and have a new home, was something I couldn’t pass up.”
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Massoud, a Muslim, is doing all this while he and those who share his faith observe Ramadan. Massoud makes a personal decision not to fast during the season when the holy month coincides with basketball season.
“You can still observe Ramadan without necessarily doing the fasting part,” said Massoud, who will fast on his own time after the Wildcats’ season is over. “It’s really just about the spirituality behind it. Being more aware of your actions, just trying to be a better person overall, and hope and charity.”
Massoud has found a strong Islamic community in the state of Kansas with a mosque he frequents and a strong Muslim Student Association (MSA) on campus.
Then there is the identity of faith that Tang has built in the basketball program. “Mad faith,” as Tang likes to call it. Although Tang in Christian, Massoud said the coach is “very supportive” of Massoud’s religious practices.
“Well, I want every individual on our team to experience their own faith and what that means, whether it’s faith in their teammates, whether it’s faith in the coaching staff, whether it’s my faith in them,” Tang said. “Obviously for me personally, it’s my faith in my beliefs and my faith in what family means, and my faith in how to love people. That’s what that means to me. I want everyone to be able to put their own definition and their own…add their own story to what that word faith means.”
That shared faith helps unite everyone for Massoud, Nowell and the Wildcats as they prepare for Florida Atlantic on Saturday in a dream setting at The Garden.
“It’s surreal. I mean, you dream of playing at Madison Square Garden and playing for your friends and family and you’re doing it in a situation like playing in the Sweet 16,” Massoud said, adding that he was especially happy to have some of his first friends from basketball in Harlem see him play college baseball for the first time. “I feel like I’m living in a movie right now, and I’m trying to make the most of it.”