BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- The name on his jersey turns heads every time he trots down the floor. And when he's announced over the PA, jaws drop.
At forward, No. 3, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The 6-foot-5 junior is playing for Western Kentucky this season, trying to follow in the very large footsteps of his famous dad.
The name alone conjures images: UCLA, Los Angeles Lakers, Showtime at the Forum, championships and the sky hook. But the younger Abdul-Jabbar has something else in mind: academic All-American.
"That's one of my main goals," says the 21-year-old son of the Hall of Famer. "That's something my dad always wanted but was never able to accomplish. I think that would be something both of us would be very proud of."
A player must have a grade-point average of 3.25 or better just to be considered for the award. The psychology major says he hopes his 3.5 GPA will catch the attention of those who award the honor.
If not, the name alone probably will do the trick.
"People are curious and if I were in their shoes, I'm sure I would be also," Abdul-Jabbar says in a soft-spoken, articulate manner reminiscent of his father. "People want to see if I can play like my dad. It's always been like that."
For some, living in the shadow of the NBA's all-time scoring leader would bring unbearable pressure. But the younger Abdul-Jabbar says that burden has never bothered him.
"Growing up as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's son definitely was different than what most kids had to go through," he says. "But to me, it was very normal because it had always been that way; I really didn't know anything else.
"I've never felt any pressure to be like my father or try to live up to what he did. I'm not sure anyone could live up to that. The only pressure I feel is what I put on myself to reach the personal and team goals I've set."
Efforts to reach the elder Abdul-Jabbar for comment were unsuccessful.
His son began his college career in 1994 at Valparaiso after a standout prep career at Brentwood (Calif.) High in which he was a second-team All California Division V selection his senior year.
He redshirted his freshman year at Valparaiso and during his sophomore year decided he wanted to transfer. But first he went to a junior college, Santa Monica, so he didn't have to sit out a year.
Santa Monica coach John McMullen liked Abdul-Jabbar's skills right away. He averaged 13.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for the 22-9 Corsairs last year and was named a first-team All-Western State Conference-South pick.
Over time, however, McMullen was even more impressed by Abdul-Jabbar's off-the-court talents.
"He's the kind of young man that will succeed in whatever he chooses to do," McMullen says. "You don't know how many times I had one of his teachers come up to me and tell me what a pleasure he was to have in class. As a coach, that's something you don't hear all the time and really says something about what kind of young man he is."
Western Kentucky coach Matt Kilcullen is happy to have Abdul-Jabbar.
"He's been one of the pleasant surprises so far and it's going to be hard to keep him out of the lineup," says Kilcullen, whose 12-15 team from last season returns three players who started more than 17 games.
"He's very athletic, knows the game extremely well and is always in the right place at the right time. And he's already played in a Division I program, so very little is going to surprise him."
Humble to a fault, Abdul-Jabbar says he doesn't expect to be treated any differently than any other player -- even if his father is one of the NBA's all-time greatest players.
"I'm just here to fit in and do what I can to help the team win," he says. "I'm realistic enough to know I'm not going to be able to count on playing in the NBA and million-dollar contracts. I'm just here to work hard and have some fun playing basketball. The future will work itself out."
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