Egypt & Rice Basketball: You Say You Want a Revolution

Omar Oraby 1.JPG
John Royal
Excuse Omar Oraby if his mind is on something other than basketball
It's easy to forget that basketball is just a game. Particularly on the college level where, for the most part, it's played mostly by kids who are a long way from home. And as much as fans might want the team to win each and every game, it's hard to remember that, sometimes, to these young kids, there might be more important things in life than the outcome of a basketball game.

This isn't why the Rice Owls (10-11, 2-5) lost to the SMU Mustangs (13-8, 4-3) by the score of 75-68 on Saturday afternoon at Tudor Fieldhouse. This isn't why the Rice Owls had difficulty with stopping SMU's pick-and-roll or playing its offense.

The 1,910 fans inside of the arena might have been upset by this loss. And while head coach Ben Braun and players like Arsalan Kazemi and Connor Frizzelle were disappointed by both their play and their failure to respond to what SMU did on the floor, the fans should probably excuse freshman center Omar Oraby if his mind wasn't totally involved in the action on the court.

Oraby's a native of Cairo, Egypt. His family still lives in Cairo. And as anyone who has been following the news is aware, the people of Egypt have decided that they want a revolution and the government is collapsing. So Oraby, a 19-year-old freshman, thousands of miles from home, almost entirely cut off from his family, sits on the bench trying to concentrate on a game with big guys in shorts trying to throw a big orange ball through a hoop situated ten feet off of the ground.

"He's my roommate," Kazemi said after the game. "He's kind of down right now because -- that's what he told me. It's really scary in Egypt right now. Some of the people escaped prison, and [his family] have to hide and they cannot go out. So he's really worried about his parents. So I try to help him out. I do as best as I can to help him out."

The worst part for Oraby, according to Rice AD Rick Greenspan, came when Egyptian authorities shut down the country's Internet and cell-phone access on Friday. Oraby was no longer able to speak to or contact his family. Greenspan said that he and Braun pulled Oraby aside in practice throughout last week, especially on Friday, to give them their full support and to let him know that the team and school would stand by and support him in any manner possible.

Braun says that Oraby has been hurting and struggling. But he was finally able to contact his family on Saturday, and as of now, they are fine.

"It's pretty tough there right now," Braun said. "He's been in touch. He definitely has reached his family. But it's really tough because there's so much uncertainty, and it's just difficult. We're just here to support him in any way we can. It's a really terrible situation there, and he's a long way from his family. We're very sensitive to that. It's hard to take your mind off of it. That's just on your mind all of the time."

Kazemi Drive.JPG
John Royal
Arsalan Kazemi goes strong to the hoop in the first half

Oraby only played for about a minute in Saturday's game, committing one personal foul and turning over the ball twice in that span. But his turnover came at a one point late in the first half when the Owls, who burst out to a quick, big lead, were imploding and losing control of a game they had dominated early on, which had included getting SMU's big men, Papa Dia and Robert Nyakundi, in early foul trouble -- an occurrence of which they failed to take advantage.

"We had opportunities, I thought, to put their big guys in foul trouble," Braun said. "We didn't do that. We had two fouls on them early, didn't go [inside] intelligently -- just [a lack of] patience. And when they did sag to protect their big guys, we had perimeter guys standing on the backside wide open, and we throw lobs, skips passes, deflected passes. We've got to make those passes sharp, crisp and clean. And I don't think we were as sharp and crisp and clean as we needed to be. We had opportunities to really exploit some things against them, and I don't think we did it consistently."

The Owls made several runs in the second half to get back into the game, getting to within two points with 13:37 remaining and four points with 3:29 left, but they never could get over the hump, could never get the game tied or move back into the lead. And though Papa Dia eventually fouled out late in the game, it was too little, too late for the Owls.

But in the end, it's all just a game played by kids. The outcome of a game is meaningless when it comes to the reality of the world. And for Omar Oraby, that reality at this moment is a scary one.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Arsalan Kazemi pulled off the double-double once again for the Owls, finishing the game with 21 points and 16 rebounds. Both Connor Frizzelle (17 points) and Tamir Jackson (12 points) finished in double figures for the Owls, but the rest of the offense for the team was practically nonexistent....Robert Nyakundi led SMU with 29 points (including seven of 11 from three point range), followed by Papa Dia with 13 and Mike Walker with 13....SMU shot 56.3-percent from the field compared to Rice's 44-percent....The Owls next visit Tulane on Wednesday before hosting UTEP on Saturday afternoon.

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