Michigan's Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner talk to the media on Friday about the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio. Robin Buckson
San Antonio – Michigan seniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson both had to bet on themselves.
Robinson took a leap of faith when he transferred from Division III Williams College after his coach, Mike Maker, left for another job. Abdur-Rahkman took a risk and held out for a better Division I offer following his senior season at Allentown Central Catholic High in Pennsylvania, which was no guarantee.
Both were doubted, flew under the radar and took similar paths as two guys who seemingly fell through the cracks.
Four years later, that gamble could turn into a windfall as Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman will help lead No. 3 Michigan into Saturday’s national semifinal game against No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago and have a chance to move within a win of the program’s first national title since 1989.
“It’s something you always dream of – playing at a high-major university like the University of Michigan and being a leader,” Abdur-Rahkman said Friday before the team’s practice at the Alamodome. “But to actually have it happen and the way it happened, it’s an incredible journey.
“All you can do is look back and I’m just blessed to have the opportunity that I had and have people vouch for me the way they did. I’m appreciative of that and I just want to keep going.”
However, Robinson’s and Abdur-Rahkman’s careers nearly came to an abrupt end two weeks ago at the hands of Houston when Michigan was 3.6 seconds away from not making it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
But then freshman guard Jordan Poole happened, giving Michigan a second life and the seniors a second chance to write a memorable closing chapter.
"I think we realized how thin the margin for victory really is,” Robinson said. “You're looking the end of your career in the eyes and then a week later you're going to the Final Four. That's nuts, man. That's crazy."
Being pushed to the brink of elimination and experiencing that moment where everything seemed to flash before their eyes gave Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson a new sense of appreciation and gratitude.
Abdur-Rahkman noticed he was being too serious, which affected his play, and has since been more talkative and vocal with his teammates, while maintaining a sense of urgency has been the ultimate difference-maker for Robinson.
“To go from that time – the lowest of lows in 3.6 seconds to about as high as you can, as happy as you can get is pretty cool,” Robinson said. “But the one thing I'll take away is I don't want to feel that again. We got to do whatever to make sure it doesn't happen again.”
Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson have risen to the occasion and held true to their word following the close call. Abdur-Rahkman responded with his best performance of the tournament the following game, stuffing the stat sheet with 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the blowout win over Texas A&M in the Sweet 16.
Then in the Elite Eight, Robinson hit a clutch 3-pointer with 2:25 left and two free throws with 21 seconds left that helped stave off Florida State and propel Michigan into in the Final Four for the second time in six seasons.
As a result, the book is still open and Robinson has to chance to cap his career in fitting fashion – with one last shot to redeem his loss in the Division III championship game at Williams College.
“I thought the DIII Final Four was sweet and I was just taking it all in,” Robinson said. “We got a police escort to the game, not that there way nay traffic in Salem, Va., anyway, but I thought that was incredible. I was blown away. We were playing in the Salem Civic Center, which maybe seats 6,000 and there were probably 2,000 people there.”
When Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman step on to the court Saturday, they’ll take center stage at the 70,000-seat Alamodome and have a chance to stamp their legacy with the whole nation watching.
And for two guys who were often overlooked throughout their careers, it’s a rather poetic ending that seemed unimaginable not that long ago.
“Everywhere you see it says, ‘The road ends here,’ and that's true,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “I've been thinking about it over and over again. It's crazy how far we've come. We're one of the four teams that's left and I'm a part of that. It's just so crazy.”
Michigan vs. Loyola-Chicago
Tip-off: 6:09 p.m. Saturday, Alamodome, San Antonio
TV/radio: TBS/WWJ 950
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 32-7; No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago 32-5
Up next: Winner advances to Monday’s national championship game against Villanova-Kansas winner.