It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Muhammad El-Amin was not supposed to be on a Division I basketball team, let alone one in first place in its conference. Nor was the 6-foot-5-inch 210-pound guard expected to be a reliable scorer. Yet he became his team’s leading and go-to scorer. The player who, according to Mike Ingram, his former community college coach, “… came out of high school with the reputation of not working hard in the classroom,” should have never even left his home state of Michigan.
El-Amin started his post-high-school career at Ferris State, a Division II school in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. No less than a few weeks later, as if to prove he was not cut out for this path, El-Amin made the decision to leave the school. “Things just really did not work out [at Ferris State],” explained Matt Essell, El-Amin’s JV basketball coach at Holt High School in Holt, Mich.
If you knew El-Amin back when Essell was walking the sidelines of his JV games (before Essell was promoted to head coach of the varsity squad), it was a stretch to say that the garbage player would have played basketball past high school at all. “Muhammad was a late bloomer,” said Essell. “He played JV for me as a sophomore and I didn’t think he would make the varsity team the next year.” But thanks to a 4-inch growth spurt and some old-fashioned hard work and dedication, El-Amin was able to fight his way to a spot on a competitive varsity team his junior year.
So the contributing JV player who failed to stand out reached his goal of making the varsity, and he was happy with that. End of story, right? Not exactly. “He didn’t do much early on in his junior year,” Essell said. “But by the end, he had become the team’s designated defensive stopper and scored mainly garbage buckets off putbacks and things in transition.” El-Amin had carved out a nice niche on the team as a hustle player and, despite lacking feel and skill on the offensive end, he found his way onto the court for Holt’s varsity games as his role continued to expand.
The exposure to the competitive league in which Holt plays and a loss in the regional finals during his junior campaign to eventual state champions Lansing Everett, which featured former Michigan State Spartans star Goran Suton, whet El-Amin’s appetite enough for him to continue to put in work during the offseason. He would become one of the team’s leaders the next season. “I think he always had offensive ability,” said Lansing CC head coach Mike Ingram, who coached El-Amin for two seasons. “But the type of team they had at Holt, they had other offensive players. His role was to play defense.” As a senior, El-Amin was given more freedom. “His last season he became a complete offensive player and could go and get points on his own,” said Essell.
However, this was not a case of an individual showcasing his offensive skills to catch the attention of college coaches. El-Amin has always put team first. The player who told goseawolves.cstv.com, Stony Brook’s official athletics site, that the record he dreams of breaking is to “get the most wins at Stony Brook” helped propel his team all the way to a state championship during his senior year at Holt. “Muhammad was our defensive stopper,” said Bruce Larner, El-Amin’s varsity head coach at Holt. “He helped to control [current New York Knicks forward] Wilson Chandler when we upset Benton Harbor in overtime in the state tournament.”
After a sub-par performance in the state semifinals in 2005 in which the Holt Rams were able to squeak by the Grosse Pointe North Norsemen 60-57, El-Amin would not let his teammates down again in the finals. “He was amazing in our state championship win,” said Essell of El-Amin’s impressive 18-point, 11-rebound and three-steal performance against the Romulus Eagles. The Rams finished the season 26-2 and the Michigan High School Athletics Association boys’ basketball champions.
Community College Stint
However, after his storybook run at Holt, El-Amin’s next stop would prove to be a minor setback in his path to NCAA Division I stardom. “I thought that he got a bad shake from the coaches,” Ingram said. “Like when he went to Ferris, they said that Muhammad didn’t work hard and that he was a bad person. He’s never been a kid who didn’t work hard and he’s never been a bad person. Sometimes when you’re big and quiet like Muhammad is, guys think that you are withdrawn and unfriendly.” El-Amin was also recruited to play for the University of Detroit. However, during the offseason before what would have been his first year at the school, there was a coaching staff overhaul. “The new coaches didn’t think Muhammad was good enough for them,” Ingram said. El-Amin’s initial misfortune turned into a blessing in disguise for both him and Ingram.
At Lansing Community College, which was almost literally right in El-Amin’s backyard in Holt, the player who had developed a penchant for exceeding expectations would continue to do just that. As a freshman, he helped lead the team to nationals and the team finished as the sixth-best team in the country. However, Ingram and El-Amin both agreed that the Division I level should be the next step and that he was going to have to work hard to get there.
Stony Brook Seawolf
Turn the page to the next chapter, where the player who had never left Michigan ends up flourishing at a State University of New York in Long Island. Ingram’s son was playing at Toledo for former coach Lamar Chapman, who is now an assistant at Stony Brook, while El-Amin was at Lansing CC. The two coaches developed a bond, and what do coaches talk about with each other if not their star players? “When Chap got the job at Stony Brook, the first thing he did was contact me about Muhammad,” Ingram said. “He knew him so well because we always talked about him. Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook’s head coach, came out and trusted me and trusted ‘Chap.’” As El-Amin continues to lead Stony Brook, he has proved that the trust has paid off.
El-Amin is also a man who does not forget to pay homage to his roots. “He’s come back and played with our kids,” Essell said. “And he just dunks all over our guys.”
As far as El-Amin’s life after Stony Brook, it is looking increasingly likely that he will be able to make a living playing the sport which has brought him on this incredible journey. “I’ve had a lot of kids, and I’ve always told my coaches, he plays like an NBA player when he’s on his game,” said Ingram. “I think he’ll be able to play overseas. He needs to learn to play a little harder outside of the basketball court to become a real good player.”
The player who was once a long shot to make his school’s varsity squad has come a long way, and there is no telling how far this star can go.