Esa Ahmad Blends Pro, NCAA Experience
BOSTON — Given an extra day in Boston after flying early to avoid a forecasted nor’easter, West Virginia’s players received an unexpected benefit. They were able to get to the TD Garden on Tuesday evening to take in an NBA game between the Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder — an experience that many of the players were enthusiastic about.
It’s always nice to come watch guys that you look up to,” Jevon Carter said of the early trip to the arena. “It was a very good experience for the team. It’s a historic building and a lot of guys have played here. It’s good to play in an arena like this.
Teammate Esa Ahmad agreed, and he had another tie that made it a little more special.
“I got pretty good seats. It was fun getting to watch some of the great basketball players in the game today, and I got to see one of my friends, Terry Rozier, so it was good. We went to high school together.”
Rozier, who is in his third professional season with the Celtics, was on the winning side as Boston rallied to knock off OKC. He’s averaging 10.9 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Celts, and has improved steadily in each of this three seasons in the NBA. His play and experience could be a motivating factor for Ahmad, who is also eyeing a pro career at some point.
Both Ahmad and Carter also noted it’s a nice touch to be able to play in a pro arena, if not on the same court. The NCAA brings its own courts in to each venue.
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Looking forward to the Villanova game, Ahmad noted that while the Wildcats have a multi-faceted offense, the task remains the same for WVU.
“Just try to take it away from them. Try to make it as difficult as possible,” he said of Villanova’s strengths, which include 3-point shooting and moving the ball. I just feel like we need to keep rebounding the ball, move the ball and keep the pressure up. We need to take away what they do.”
Like the Wildcats, shooting has been a strength for WVU through the first two rounds of the tournament, and rebounding came back to the fore against Marshall, even though the Mountaineers lost Wesley Harris early in the game after he cracked heads with the Herd’s Jannson Williams. Ahmad and Lamont West stepped in with good games on the glass, but West Virginia will need more of that to knock Nova out of the tournament.
“I don’t think we’re going to change our defense,” Ahmad said, even though Villanova brings a number of good ballhandlers to the court. “We’re going to press. We’re going to try to take them out of what they do well and just try to take everything away from them.”