LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Anas Mahmoud and Louisville coach Rick Pitino accept the reality that reaching 230 pounds might be the 7-footer’s biggest challenge as the coaching staff tries everything to bulk him up.
”I try so much to get in what I can, but you can only eat so much in a day,” said the slender junior from Egypt, who has gained 40 pounds since arriving and weighs around 224. ”To keep calories in me and (weight) on me has been a struggle my whole life.”
Despite his slight frame, Mahmoud has made his presence felt at both ends of the court for the No. 12 Cardinals.
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His career bests of 17 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday’s 78-69 win over then-No. 7 Duke surprised no one who has seen his confidence blossom in starting the past five games. Already the ACC’s No. 2 shot blocker (2.53 per contest), Mahmoud has averaged 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 rejections over that span for Louisville (15-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) and moved the ball around as well.
”It was just a matter of time,” sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell said after the game. ”He just kept playing the way he’s been playing in practice.”
”I had fun,” Mahmoud said of his first double-double. ”It’s not just (building) confidence for me because I know what I can do, but confidence for my teammates to trust me and for coach P (Pitino) to trust me in crucial times.”
Mahmoud began playing on Egyptian club teams at 12 before competing with national squads. He dribbles well for his size and has tried to develop a short hook, though his coach prefers his big men finish down low with dunks.
He did finish some breaks with slams against the Blue Devils, demonstrating the quickness and instincts that have coaches and teammates curious to see what Mahmoud does next.
”One of the reasons he’s such a good player is that he’s got a natural feel for the game,” said 6-11 Louisville assistant coach David Padgett, who works with Mahmoud and the Cardinals’ other post players. ”He’s a very smart player who understands the game, so he knows when he can be more aggressive and the difference between being too aggressive to where he’s trying to force things. … He’s kind of a catalyst for us on both ends of the floor.”
Mahmoud’s offensive role could increase when Louisville hosts Clemson on Thursday night and visits No. 10 Florida State on Saturday. Starting point guard Quentin Snider is out 2-3 weeks with a hip injury , leaving the Cardinals without their assists leader and No. 2 scorer (12.1 points per game).
Pitino said in a radio interview Tuesday that Louisville is experimenting with different lineups to fill the distribution and scoring void Snider’s absence has left. The coach added that players have to step up to handle the added burden, and Mitchell said Wednesday that Mahmoud’s emergence comes in handy.
”The fact that he’s such a great passer kind of helped `Q’ in a lot of ways,” Mitchell added. Snider ”could throw the ball in to Anas and he could make a play from there. It’s great to have a post player with his intelligence, especially at that size.”
Mahmoud has had plenty of time to prove it, averaging nearly 25 minutes over the past six games. Weight training has increased his bulk and endurance, not to mention a metabolism that makes it hard to tell if he eats at all. Pitino joked last week that his big man is full after just half a steak at dinner and stores food away ”like a squirrel.”
Mahmoud insists that his appetite is strong but notes that weight gain is a work in progress – just like his game. But as he works on both, his efforts are paying off.
”I always knew my body size is not my biggest asset,” Mahmoud said, ”but I can go around guys and be faster than them and even smarter than them. I’m not exactly where I wanted to be, but I’m pretty close to it. I’ve gotten a lot comfortable playing a different system and it has shown up the last couple of games.”
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