Ali’s next step

HOUGHTON – After four accolade-filled years on the court and an engineering degree to cap it off, former Michigan Tech basketball player Ali Haidar is prepared for the next step in his career.

Which means one thing for the two-time GLIAC Player of the Year – he is heading back home.

In as little time as a week, Haidar – a Lebanese native who arrived at Tech after his mother moved to Windsor, Ont. – will become the first Michigan Tech player since now-assistant coach Josh Buettner to sign a professional contract in Europe. Haidar’s agent, Jad Saade, believes Haidar will decide on a team in Lebanon’s top flight (BANKMED FLB League) over the course of the next week, giving the 6-foot-7 forward time to concentrate on the Lebanon national team before the professional season begins.

“It should be in the next week or so, I’m very, very excited,” Haidar said. “I’m going to be playing with the national team in June so I want to take care of (the contract) as soon as possible.

“I would like to thank everybody in the (Houghton) community for their support and always being so nice to me. I never got homesick because I thought the community was my family. Once a Husky always a Husky.”

While Haidar’s roster spot is assured in Lebanon – there will be a handful of teams clamoring for his services after averaging 24.8 points per game with 9.5 rebounds per contest as a senior – his tactical position in the international game is not.

As a traditional center at Tech, Haidar could expect to see the ball in the same spots, time and time again, game after game, making his decisions relatively simple.

But with a host of 7-footers on top international teams, Haidar will need to move more to the perimeter, a very unfamiliar territory for the forward who played his first basketball game at the age of 16.

“He needs to start as a four, and with experience he can be ready to play the three,” Buettner said. “And it’s not really developing his skills, it’s developing his mind. He needs to make quicker decisions. He has the skill to play on the perimeter, but he doesn’t have the mind yet. The ball stops with him, and he needs to see the quick passes. The drive-shoot-pass decision needs to be instant.”

To prepare for the positional switch, Haidar has been working with Terry Klemett, another Husky assistant coach with international experience, to better ready himself for the transition.

“I need to develop as a guard and be able to space the floor and see the floor,” Haidar said. “I definitely have to be able to guard the three as well, so I have been working on that with Terry. We have been working on ball handling, driving, making better decisions and moving the ball fast.”

According to Buettner, the most important difference between the college and international game is not physical, but an attitude adjustment.

In college, a program is willing to wait a year or two for player development. In Europe, there is “produce-now” pressure that can affect the game in different ways.

“One of the big adjustments mentally is once you get pro, you have to start looking out for yourself. It is a hard reality,” Buettner said. “In college you are playing for your team and community, but you have to balance that over there (in Europe). You have to sacrifice for the team, if the team is going to be successful, but it is a fine line, because if you lose, you better have your numbers or they might start looking at you.”

Haidar too, understands.

“From now on it is a job, so it is the same thing as other jobs, if you don’t listen to your coach or perform you are going to get fired,” Haidar said. “There is no joking with coach Luke like I used to. If coach asks something, you have to do it or be cut. They taught me to be a team player for all four years at Tech, but now I have to look for it on my own.”