High flying summer slows but doesn’t stop Islanders’ Ehab Amin

Ehab Amin

He’s cool with putting the hopes of a nation on his back. It’s the blankety-blank left shoulder that doesn’t seem to want to join the party.

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“I had to play, like, 25 games in two months,” Texas A&M-Corpus Christi guard Ehab Amin explained. “Honestly, I don’t even remember the incident, how it happened.”

What he does know is that there’s probably one partial tear in there somewhere. Maybe two. That and that it hurts like the Dickens, rain or shine.

“Thank God it’s not my shooting shoulder,” the sophomore cracked.

And welcome to how one of the best late summers in the sophomore’s basketball life dovetailed into one of the more frustrating autumns he can remember. At FIBA’s Afrobasket 2015 tourney in Tunisia last August, Amin’s first real crack at Egypt’s senior men’s basketball squad, he hit the ground running and never stopped: the 6-foot-3 combo guard topped the Pharaohs in scoring (11 points per game) and steals (2.4 per contest) over seven tournament appearances, drawing raves as the youngest player on the roster, a bridge to the future.

“I probably (played) my best basketball this summer and then hurt my shoulder and pretty much started from the bottom,” said Amin, whose Islanders visit Lamar in a Southland Conference test Monday on ASN. “And tried to work my way back.”

The climb back has been slow and steady, which is understandable given only one fully functioning arm to work with. Even with minutes down and a bum shoulder, the sophomore still ranks second in the league in steals (27, trailing only teammate Hameed Ali) and fourth in steals per game (2.1).

“I honestly don’t think about it when I play,” Amin said. “At least I don’t think affects my shot or playing. So far, it’s not getting worse.”

And the ceiling is still tantalizingly high. Amin came out of Delafield, Wisconsin’s St. John’s Military Academy two years ago as one of the more interesting international prospects in the collegiate pool. A St. John’s administrator with FIBA ties had encouraged Amin, a 4.0 student and a club basketball veteran in his native Egypt, to spend a year in prep school stateside.

Injuries curtailed his regular season, but it ultimately proved to be a wise gambit: After a 28-point, 10-steal performance against the USA South squad at the Nike Global Challenge, Amin noted that “at least six high-major schools came and talked to me. But I’d already committed.”

He’d gotten hooked by the Islanders’ staff, facilities, campus and climate (average February high: 70 degrees), where the latter reminded him, more or less, of home. Amin grew up in the seaside city of Alexandria, where the basketball bug — thanks to repeated NBA and NCAA contests on television — bit at the age of 6, and bit hard. When Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili entered the scene, it was love at first Euro Step.

“But honestly, I like the European (game) more; I just feel like it fits more my style of basketball,” Amin said. “And I always wanted to play overseas in the pro leagues in one of the big countries like Spain or Italy or France.”

When you speak Arabic (first language), English (second) and French (third) fluently, options abound. Scouts are on board, too, assuming Amin can heal up — and re-channel the groove he found in Tunisia.

“I had to learn everything,” Amin said of his senior FIBA debut. “I had to learn how to eat (right), how to do meetings, how to practice, how to stretch. It was just something on a new level.”

Summer obligations with the Islanders meant joining the Egyptian squad later than his older teammates. The veterans helped him to cram upon arrival — especially guard Ramy Gunady, a 34-year-old captain who took to Amin like a big brother.

“When I came back, he sat me down and told me what they expected of me, what they needed from me, and everything about the plays,” the Islanders guard recalled. “He told me in steps, what to do, how to not panic when I get there, how to get the ball, how to get more minutes, how to pretty much take over after him. So I just felt really welcomed.”

Welcomed and confident. Amin dropped 11 points and four assists on Gabon in his first Afrobasket appearance; he knocked down the go-ahead 3-pointer with 36 seconds left against Cameroon in his second.

“I’m probably 65% back,” Amin said. “But I hope by my conference tournament, it’s going to be 100%.”

Even at 65%, the dude’s a pest. Over his last five games, four of them Islander wins, the sophomore averaged 5.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals. He remains a key cog in a defensive front that ranks among nation’s Top 20 in steals per game (8.9, 12th) and steals per opponent possession (12.2%, eighth).

“It’s just the way I’ve been playing since I was young,” Amin said. “I like gambling and risking and taking steals and hitting the floor and loose balls. That kind of stuff.”

Which, come to think of it, might partially explain the shoulder. And you know what? He wouldn’t change a darn thing.

Above: After lighting up the Afrobasket tournament this summer as one of the youngest players on the Egyptian national team, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Ehab Amin is struggling with some shoulder injuries. (Courtesy Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Athletics)