UCLA tailback Karim Abdul-Jabbar carving own niche

By Craig Sanders

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Arizona football

team will be visiting

Karim Abdul-Jabbar and the UCLA Bruins this weekend no, not the sky-hook shooting, NBA- record setting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but the Pacific 10 Conference- leading running back.

With the adoption of the name Karim Abdul-Jabbar earlier this year, the UCLA junior, formerly Sharmon Shaw, suddenly had one of the most recognizable names in college athletics. Yet the practicing Muslim is definitely not one to live off another's identity. On the contrary, he is working hard to make his own name as one of the best running backs in the nation.

"I don't model myself after anyone," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I'm hoping that after I've played this game for a while, I'll have a patent on my style."

The name change was not a matter of hero worship for Abdul-Jabbar, it was simply a matter of faith. He and his family have been practicing Muslims all their lives and when Abdul-Jabbar's Imam (a teacher of the Muslim faith) gave him the name Karim Abdul-Jabbar, the running back accepted it.

"That was it," Abdul-Jabbar said. "It simply was the name I was given."

Although media and fans may have focused on the name change, Abdul-Jabbar's focus has been the football field.

"He is the most competitive player we have," UCLA head coach Terry Donahue said. "Of all our guys on our team who play hard and work in practice, I think that guy (Abdul-Jabbar) would stand out among everybody."

With an NFL career looming in the future, he is at least the second-most famous Abdul-Jabbar at UCLA. The irony of the situation is he would not even have been a Bruin if it had been his choice.

"Actually my father made the call and commitment to UCLA," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I wanted to go to Oklahoma."

Abdul-Jabbar has carried the ball 129 times for 667 yards and five touchdowns this season. He has also added 10 receptions for 126 yards. In UCLA's first game this season, a win over Miami, Abdul-Jabbar rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns. He averages 5.17 yards per carry and 25.8 carries per game this season. Entering the Arizona game, he had rushed for a career total of 2,278 yards on 441 carries.

Donahue said Abdul-Jabbar is one of the true talents in the conference.

"He's a good running back. He has good vision, good toughness. He cuts well," Donahue said. "The only knock on Karim is that he hasn't made a lot of long runs, and he hasn't. But he's sure made a lot of yards. He has a chance to end up with a stronger year this year than he had last year."

Abdul-Jabbar's longest run of the season was a 44-yarder against Brigham Young. His longest career run was 65 yards against Arizona last season. Yet his career average of 5.2 yards per carry would make any coach happy.

"Abdul-Jabbar is probably the best running back in the Pac-10," Arizona head coach Dick Tomey said.

Abdul-Jabbar lived in Los Angeles as a teenager and played high school football at Dorsey High, where he gained over 2,500 yards rushing in his career. He was a USA TODAY All-America honorable mention and a member of the Cal-Hi Sports All-State team.

Abdul-Jabbar entered the UCLA program and played in nine games his freshman season, but had only 145 yards on 48 carries. In '93, he had 280 yards on 54 carries, but had surgery on his right knee and received a medical hardship redshirt after competing in only three games. Abdul-Jabbar's first complete season, in 1994, showed that the running back was truly an impact player.

He has rushed for at

least 180 yards in a

game three times in his career, joining Gaston Green and Freeman McNeil as the only players in UCLA history to do so. Last season he rushed for 1,227 yards and was named the Bruins' offensive most valuable player.

"It was a good year for me and I'm hoping to build on that success," Abdul-Jabbar said.

Awards naturally follow. He has been nominated for All-American honors and the Doak Walker Award for the nation's top tailback this season.

"I just want to do whatever it takes for this team to win," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Whether I get 10 yards rushing or 100, I'll do whatever it takes for us to be successful."

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