It was an odd sort of college cheer: All the students in Duke University's basketball arena were bowing in unison.
But that was their way of celebrating their Egyptian-born star, Alaa Abdelnaby, during his undergraduate years - years in which he grew to be one of the nation's best amateur basketball players. On June 27 Abdelnaby is expected to take the first step toward turning professional: He will be one of 54 college players selected in the National Basketball Association draft.
Power forward Abdelnaby, who spreads 109 kilograms (240 pounds) nicely over his 208-centimeter-tall (six-foot 10-inch) frame, is one of the better prospects, and a career in the NBA would fulfill the same kind of dream for him that his father dreamed - and fulfilled - 20 years ago, when he left Egypt bound for opportunity in the United States.
"Just imagine yourself in that situation," Alaa says as he marvels at his father, Abdelhamid. "Not being familiar with anything around you in a big city like New York. Not knowing what to do in the next five minutes - let alone for the rest of your life."
When Abdelhamid Abdelnaby left Alexandria for New York, his assets were an engineering degree, his Muslim religion, and very little English. He left behind his bride, Ferial, and their baby son, Alaa. For six months, he worked in a factory, struggling to make ends meet. Finally, he landed an engineering job and' sent for his family. Young Alaa was just 2 1/2.
"My father has a lot of pride and fire," Alaa says. "Everything he does is for the sake of his family. I wish I had some of that fire."
For three years, Duke's basketball coaches' and players wished the same. When head coach Mike Krzyzewski recruited Abdelnaby from his Bloomfield, New Jersey, high school, he thought he was getting a top-level player: The boy had been state athlete of the year, and he had uncanny shooting ability. But the young prospect did not deal well with high expectations. He worried about mistakes. He sulked. He pouted. "I think it hurt him when he didn't have the impact everyone thought he would," says Duke assistant coach Tommy Amaker. "It took him some time to accept that he would have to work a lot harder than he had expected."
For three seasons Abdelnaby floundered. For a time, he was suspended from the team for academic reasons. He averaged only 5.9 points and 2.5 rebounds a game, and played little part in Duke's successes in the national college tournaments in 1988 and 1989.
Abdelnaby now admits that what held him back was heart. "A person is judged by his actions and deeds," he says. "Until a year ago, I was the guy bouncing checks and being suspended. Then I decided to show myself that I had another side that could concentrate and get the job done on the court."
In his final college season, Abdelnaby was instrumental in Duke's advance to the NCAA Tournament's championship match. He played with enough confidence to score 15.1 points a game, and enough muscle to average 6.6 rebounds. And he shot so well that he brought his career field-goal average up to a remarkable 59.9 percent, a Duke record.
Playing basketball with discipline and heart, Abdelnaby earned a chance to play professionally, and will likely sign a contract later this summer with an NBA team. Unlike his father's, the obstacles Alaa overcame were internal, not external - but both men found their way to opportunity at last.
Ron Morris is sports editor of the Durham Morning Herald in North Carolina.