With N.C. State’s ACC opener is a little more than two weeks away, senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu is steadily getting healthier and more confident.
Abu sprained a knee ligament in October during preseason practice, and it caused him to miss the season’s first four games. He played in three games over Thanksgiving week but sat out the next two games when soreness returned.
Abu, who’s 6-8 and 240 pounds, played nine minutes in last Saturday’s 88-69 win over Missouri-Kansas City at Reynolds Coliseum. He’s expected to play again when the Wolfpack faces UNC Greensboro at PNC Arena on Saturday.
“He’s had a few really good practices,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said Thursday. “He’s starting to get his groove back, starting to get his timing back and getting really good chemistry with his teammates. He should be ready to go on Saturday.”
Abu averaged 11.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season. The sprained medial collateral ligament he suffered in October left the Wolfpack short on post players when the regular season began.
After winning its first four games without Abu, N.C. State welcomed him back for its 90-84 win over then-No. 2 Arizona in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas on Nov. 22. He also played in the next two games there, losses to Northern Iowa on Nov. 23 and Tennessee on Nov. 24.
After playing those three games in three days, Abu returned home with soreness in his healing knee. Because of that, Abu missed N.C. State’s wins over Penn State on Nov. 29 and S.C. State on Dec. 2.
The reason for resting Abu is to have him fully healthy for N.C. State’s first ACC game – at Clemson on Dec. 30.
Abu eased back into practice in the days leading up to the game against Missouri-Kansas City.
After that game, Abu didn’t experience the type of soreness he did in the Bahamas last month.
“He’s had really good practices the last couple of days,” Keatts said. “Obviously it’s a little different than the Bahamas trip because he’s getting in a little bit better shape and he’s starting to feel better while playing.”
Keatts said he hasn’t decided if Abu will play more against UNC Greensboro than he did against Missouri-Kansas City. He’ll see how the game goes and how Abu feels.
N.C. State has two more home non-conference games next week – against Robert Morris on Dec. 19, and against Jacksonville on Dec. 22. Abu’s play in those two games will offer a better indication of how Keatts and his coaching staff can design the interior plan for ACC play.
Sophomore center Omer Yurtseven and redshirt senior forward Lennard Freeman have divided up the starting jobs at the post position in the Wolfpack’s first 10 games. Junior guard Torin Dorn, despite being only 6-5, is starting at power forward and leads the Wolfpack in rebounding at 7.5 per game.
Abu has averaged 15.8 minutes per game the four times he’s played this season. Getting him to play 25-30 minutes a game would give the Wolfpack another source for rebounding, interior scoring and defense.
Dorn said he sees Abu looking better and better – and more explosive – with each practice.
“He’s getting right, getting stronger, getting his confidence back,” Dorn said. “He’s getting his confidence back. I feel like once he gets that back he’ll be back to where he was.”
UNCG at NC State
When: Saturday, noon
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh