July 18, 2014
DENTON - The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic term for scorching heat or dryness, which is ironic considering what North Texas basketball newcomer Muhammed Ahmed has recently been introduced to.
A native of the Bronx, New York, who spent the last two years traipsing through the snow at Gillette Community College in Wyoming, Ahmed has joined his teammates in the near triple-digit temperatures of Denton as they prepare for the upcoming basketball season.
From medicine ball work to full-field sprints on the Apogee Stadium turf, Ahmed has been put through the ringer by the North Texas strength and conditioning staff – and he’s done it all on an empty stomach.
Ahmed is a devout Muslim, and during the holy month of Ramadan he joins millions worldwide in fasting and prayer. That means no food or drink from dawn until sunset, despite the fact that Ahmed and his teammates undergo strenuous workouts both in the morning and afternoon.
"I don’t know too many kids that could do this and remain as focused as he’s been during training," said E.J. Hairston, the associate athletic trainer at North Texas. "He’s a pretty special kid, and he seems to be handling it really well. Obviously, we monitor him more closely than the other players, but he hasn’t taken more than one or two reps off since we started a few weeks ago."
Hairston and Co. have kept their eyes on Ahmed during workouts, looking for the tale-tell symptom of dehydration and heat exhaustion: cramping, slurred speech, dizziness and nausea. Preventative maintenance, Hairston says, will be Ahmed’s best weapon for staying healthy and hydrated.
The results? So far, so good.
"I just try to be mentally tough and try not to think about it," Ahmed said. "I don’t like being on the sidelines while my teammates work, so I try to push myself no matter what the circumstances are."
The ninth and holiest month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan runs from June 28 until July 28. Ahmed’s day begins at 4 a.m. for prayer and breakfast. He has to get plenty of fluids and fuel before the sun rises at 6:30 a.m. because his first workout of the day begins just an hour later.
Ahmed squeezes in classes and study sessions for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon, and most days he and his teammates have a basketball workout at the Ernie Kuehne Practice Facility that lasts into the early evening.
He can have dinner once the sun sets a little after 8:30 p.m. In between his two meals Ahmed sweats out thousands of calories, and replacing them properly can be the difference in keeping his body in tune. Protein shakes, fruit and tons of water have become the norm for Ahmed.
"The first two days were the toughest," said Ahmed. "That was my first time working out early in the morning. I’m used to playing basketball in the afternoon, but this is a new challenge for me. The heat down here makes it even tougher."
Head coach Tony Benford couldn’t have been more excited to get Ahmed onto campus after a sophomore season that included NJCAA All-America honors for Gillette CC. He poured in 17.6 points per game, including a 51.2 percent clip from three-point, while pulling down 6.9 rebounds per game. Ahmed crossed the 20-point mark on 13 occasions last season, and even had a 27-point, 13-rebound performance in the regional tournament.
And while those numbers are nice, Benford was less impressed with Ahmed’s statistics and more taken by his intensity on the court. He seemed to be able to push through adversity and out-work his opponents. In a word, Ahmed looked hungry.
After this month, Ahmed will certainly be hungry for a Mean Green win.