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Harlem’s Ismael Massoud making own impact in Kansas State’s Elite Eight run

Last March, Kansas State’s Ismael Massoud faced uncertainty.

His first season in his new Manhattan [Kansas] home didn’t go so well in the rough-and-tumble Big XII as the Wildcats finished 14-17 and with coach Bruce Weber resigning, he was facing another regime change after transferring from Wake Forest.

After Jerome Tang took over the program, things didn’t start out well for the 6-8 junior, who struggled to get consistent minutes off the bench after starting 18 games the previous season.

Fast forward to Thursday night in the Sweet 16 and third-seeded Kansas State isn’t advancing without Massoud’s clutch shooting in a 98-93 overtime win over seventh-seeded Michigan State.

Massoud scored 15 points, including a massive fadeaway baseline jumper that gave the Wildcats (26-9) a three-point lead with 12.7 seconds left, putting his team 40 minutes away from the Final Four. Kansas State will need every bit of those 40 minutes against a game Florida Atlantic (34-3) in Saturday’s Elite Eight matchup.

“For myself, I understood it was a different situation, different role,” said Massoud, who also was 4-for-6 from 3-point range on Thursday. “People are able to grow and understand and understand things at different times. So for me, it just took a little longer to understand what the coaching staff wanted from me…. But I realized this team was winning and just I wanted to be a part of it. And I knew I could help and I knew I could play a big part for this team.”

Massoud’s role has been as big off the court as well for Kansas State. At one point, he and roommate Markquis Nowell were the only two scholarship players left on the roster. Friends since Massoud was 15, now the two are representing New York in the biggest fashion on the city’s biggest basketball stage. It’s part of what made it worth coming to Kansas State in the first place.

“Kansas State plays in the best league in the country,” Massoud said about a program that has been to the Final Four four times, the last being 59 years ago. “And just the history of the school, it’s a great university, first and foremost. And then Manhattan, Kansas, is one of the happiest places on earth. Just being around that environment, seeing the Octagon of Doom, and just the opportunity it presented for me to come out and just have a new home, and it was something I couldn’t pass on.”

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Massoud, a Muslim, is doing this all while he and those who share his faith are observing Ramadan. Massoud makes the personal choice of not fasting during the season when the holy month happens to overlap with basketball season.

“You can still observe Ramadan without necessarily doing the fasting part,” said Massoud, who will do the fasting on his own time once the Wildcats’ season ends. “It’s really about just the spirituality behind it. Being more mindful of your actions, just trying to be a better person overall, and hope and charity.”

Massoud has found a strong Islamic community at Kansas State with a mosque he frequents and a strong Muslim Student Association (MSA) on campus.

Then there’s the faith identity Tang has built in the basketball program. “Crazy faith,” as Tang likes to call it. Though Tang in Christian, Massoud said the coach is “ultra supportive” of Massoud’s religious practices.

“Well, I want every individual in our team to experience their own faith and what that means, whether it’s faith in their teammates, whether it’s faith in the coaching staff, whether it’s my faith in them,” Tang said. “Obviously for me personally, it’s my faith in my beliefs and my faith in what family means, and my faith in how to love people. That’s what that means to me. I want everyone to be able to put their own definition and their own — add their own story to what that word faith means.”

That shared faith helps bring all together for Massoud, Nowell, and the Wildcats as they prepare for Florida Atlantic on Saturday in a dream scenario at The Garden

“It’s surreal. I mean, you dream of playing at Madison Square Garden and to play for your friends and family and you’re doing it in a situation like playing in the Sweet 16,” said Massoud, who added that he was especially happy to have some of his earliest basketball friends in Harlem see him play college ball for the first time. “I feel like I’m living in a movie right now, and I’m trying to make the most of it.”

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