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Abu Aims To Provide Boost To NC State’s Front Line

AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer
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(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Abdul-Malik Abu is determined to give North Carolina State some help inside after the Wolfpack lost the top player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The freshman power forward has joined a crowd of young big men at N.C. State, which must replace at least some of the production lost when league player of the year T.J. Warren left early for the NBA. Abu could help Mark Gottfried’s fourth team find consistent production up front, something the Wolfpack lacked last season during Warren’s high-scoring romp through the ACC.

“My expectation is just to find the best role for me and the best role that’s going to get us wins,” Abu said. “No matter what that is.”

The 6-foot-8, 230-pound Boston native played at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, and is part of a top-25 recruiting class that includes twin wings Caleb and Cody Martin. Abu was ranked as the nation’s No. 45 recruit by Rivals.com and No. 56 by Scout.com.

He joins a frontcourt that broke in Kyle Washington, Lennard Freeman and BeeJay Anya as rookies last season. Each of those players had good moments, with the 6-9 Washington starting 25 games and 6-8 Freeman starting 11. But none averaged more than Washington’s 4.8 points or Freeman’s 5.7 rebounds, with them all rotating through the lineup alongside Warren.

Abu spent his first month on campus this summer fasting for the month of Ramadan in observance of his Muslim faith while trying to learn the offense and competing against his more experienced fellow forwards.

“I think once he learns and gets comfortable with our offense and our system, then it’s going to skyrocket,” Gottfried said. “Right now he’s in that learning mode. You can tell he’s out there looking around like, ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’ So I think for him it’s just getting familiar with our system.”

Last year that system started with Warren, a sophomore who carried the load by averaging 24.9 points while accounting for roughly a third of N.C. State’s scoring. Warren made 342 field goals, the most of any player in Division I, according to STATS.

This year’s team has several options in the backcourt, led by top returning scorer Ralston Turner and the arrival of Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey. The challenge for Abu is to emerge from the crowd of forwards for a team that could use the inside-out balance.

Abu has the athleticism to crash the boards, play defense, run the break and reliably knock down a midrange jumper to pull defenders out of the paint. He showed some of that during Wednesday’s morning workout, snatching down a rebound to quickly start the break and throwing down a one-handed tip dunk off a loose rebound.

Gottfried said Abu has led the team in rebounding in scrimmages and his game will expand.

“He’s willing to work,” said his father, Rotimi Abu. “That’s one thing about him. He’s always willing to work, he’s always willing to improve and he’s always willing to learn more than he knows. That will take him a long way, hopefully.”

For now, Gottfried said he does not envision any of the big men being “a 35-minute-a-game guy.” That means plenty of competition ahead for playing time, and Abu said he is ready.

“I just feel like playing and battling with the best only makes you better, you know?” Abu said. “All the young bigs are going to bring the best out in each other because we all want to play.”

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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