October 24, 2011
With Jimmer Fredette now a Sacramento King and Jackson Emery working for a start-up company called EcoScraps, BYU is in dire need of a new perimeter threat to complement frontcourt standouts Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies.
Enter Charles Abouo, the senior who averaged 7.2 points per game last season and played stellar perimeter defense yet was often overshadowed by the higher profile members of the Cougars' backcourt.
Abouo, a native of the Ivory Coast, spent his summer working on his rebounding skills, his conditioning and his ability to consistently bury his outside shot. The 6-foot-5 swingman spoke with me recently about his goals for his senior season, making the transition from his homeland to Milwaukee and why he thinks BYU is being overlooked.
JE: The national perception of BYU appears to be that you'll still be good but that a big step backward from last season is inevitable. Do you and some of the other returning players draw motivation from that?
CA: We definitely do. It's a different team and a different year, but we still have a lot of talent. Good programs always find a way to keep things going forward, and our coaches do a great job with that getting the best out of us and bringing new guys in. We're excited for the challenge. We know what we're capable of. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we know we'll be successful.
JE: With Jimmer and Jackson gone, do you see an opportunity for yourself to have a breakout season as a senior?
CA: It's a huge opportunity for me. I know a lot of other guys feel the same way. As a college player, you have four years and you try to get better each year so that you can rise to the challenge that presents itself. This year, I just want to help my team go as far as it can. That's on the court and off the court. We're all just focused on being leaders. If we all have that attitude, it can be another really special year for all of us.
JE: What did you do this offseason to prepare yourself for the greater opportunities you'll have this season?
CA: I worked on pretty much everything. One of the biggest things for me is to be more consistent on everything from shooting the ball, rebounding the ball, finishing at the rim, playing better defense and trying to stay out of foul trouble. I wanted to become a more complete player and a better teammate. I tried to help guys in the summer when they needed it and needed someone to push them along.
JE: You were a soccer player as a kid growing up in the Ivory Coast. How did you go from that to basketball when your family moved to the United States?
CA: I was really into soccer, but when I came to the United States, I noticed basketball football and baseball were the biggest sports here. It was hard finding opportunities to play soccer with kids my age. But you could always find pickup games at the YMCA or church, so I decided to play basketball because there were more opportunities.
JE: How long did it take before you realized you might have a future in basketball?
CA: I was really bad when I started but I just kept getting better. I realized that from year to year, just by working hard, I could become better than other players. I just got addicted to the fact that hard work can take you where you want to go. I just kept doing that and I really started learning more about the game and enjoying it. It's done so many things for me in my life. It has helped me meet some great people, see a lot of things, travel to new places. It's just become a way of life.
JE: I'm sure the other kids had a head start on you in basketball since you hadn't played much before you got to this country. How difficult was that at first?
CA: It was really tough. I had to work really hard to catch up. Part of the motivation for that was I wanted to be good at something and invest my time in something positive. Basketball is not only really fun but it can do a lot of things for you. It can pay for your education. My parents really liked the fact I was pursuing something like that to eventually help me get into college.
JE: Toughest part of going from the Ivory Coast to Milwaukee, the language or the weather?
CA: I would say the weather. It was fun to play in the snow and all that, but Milwaukee is really cold. Me and my family, everyone was freezing that first winter. But being a young kid about seven years old, it was just fun seeing some of the things you saw on TV. I know it was tough on my parents coming here and starting fresh, but as a kid I really enjoyed it. There were a lot of opportunities I had here, so I had a good time.
JE: So learning English wasn't that bad?
CA: The climate was tougher. Language became easy. My mom let me watch as much TV as I wanted. She was never a big TV person, but when we first got here, she wanted me to watch all the shows because we could listen to the native language. It was good because I learned the language pretty quickly. It only took a few months to learn how to speak.
JE: You guys had a five-game exhibition tour of Greece in August. What did you learn about the team during that trip?
CA: One of the main things we learned was it's definitely going to be a different team. We have a lot of talent, a lot of newcomers and experienced players coming back. Going to Greece allowed us to play with the new group of guys. It definitely helps them getting that experience in the summer rather than starting brand new in the fall.
JE: Do you think one of the main differences about this year's team will be that you guys will have to be more frontcourt-oriented than in the past?
CA: Definitely, I think so. We have Brandon at the five position, Noah, who's been one of our most consistent players the past few years. They're ready. They've put in the work. They've always been a huge part of what we do. That's one thing coach Rose likes to do is play through our post guys. So I definitely think you'll see both those guys being really aggressive from the get-go.
JE: Jimmer obviously was the go-to guy down the stretch in close games for you guys last season. Do you need a new No. 1 option this season or can that be done by committee?
CA: I think it can be both. Jimmer was amazing for us last year obviously, but there were a lot of guys on our team who made big shots. We just have to keep that confidence this year at the end of games and trust each other to make a play or hit a big shot. I think we'll get to the point where we'll be comfortable with that.
JE: Are you excited to be joining the WCC this year or disappointed to leave the Mountain West behind?
CA: It's not that bad. We really enjoyed the Mountain West. The rivalries were fun and there were some really good programs in the league. So it's kind of bittersweet. You're going to miss playing some of those teams, but at the same time, it's really exciting to go to a new league. You don't know what to expect and you know you're going to get everybody's best shot. It's a pretty exciting transition. Not many players get to play in two different leagues during their careers.
JE: Take me back to the day last month when Brandon Davies was formally reinstated. What was the mood of the team like?
CA: It was exciting. Being around him through the process, with him doing all the right things, we had a good feeling that was going to happen, but to have that certainty when it was announced was a really good feeling. We were thrilled and he was just as happy as we were.
JE: Brandon hasn't spoken to the media yet about the entire experience. Can you share from your perspective how you think he's handled all the scrutiny?
CA: He's done a great job. It was a really tough situation, but he did a great job keeping that demeanor and focusing on the things he needed to, which were doing the right things and doing what was asked of him so he could be reinstated. He showed a lot of resiliency during the process, and I'm really happy for him.
JE: Do you ever allow yourself to think about how much further you potentially could have gone in the NCAA tournament last year if you had him in the lineup?
CA: You think about it a little bit, but we were happy with how our team responded and that he was able to be with us throughout the process. I think it was huge to have him there. We went to the Sweet 16 and lost a tough game, but we really didn't think too much about whether it would have been different with him or not. That's something we'll never know.
JE: How realistic a goal is it for you guys to win the WCC and return to the NCAA tournament this year?
CA: Obviously it's a long process, but we have a lot of confidence in our team. We have some great coaches that put us in the right position to do some great things. One of our goals is definitely to win our conference and make it back to the NCAA tournament. We definitely have the capability to do that with this team. It takes a lot of hard work and it's really far away right now, but we believe if we put in the hard work, good things will happen.
More conference previews from the Dagger:
ACC: Lessons from the pros keep North Carolina humble and hungry, ACC projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Wake Forest star Ish Smith scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league ACC games, Q&A with Florida State junior Michael Snaer
Atlantic 10: Temple's Micheal Eric hopes to seize his chance, A-10 projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Xavier star Byron Larkin scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league A-10 games, Q&A with St. Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell
Big East: For Cincinnati's Yancy Gates, suspension was a turning point; Big East projections and storylines to watch; Ex-Notre Dame forward Jordan Cornette projects the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big East games
Big Ten: How Zack Novak became Michigan's emotional leader; Big Ten projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-Ohio State star Jim Jackson scouts the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big Ten games; Q&A with Michigan State forward Delvon Roe
Big 12: Big 12 projections and storylines to watch, Iowa State's Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance, Ex-Oklahoma guard Michael Neal projects the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league Big 12 games, Q&A with Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson
Mountain West: San Diego State out to prove it's no one-hit wonder; MWC projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-New Mexico forward Daniel Faris projects the league; Ranking the 12 best non-league MWC games; Q&A with UNLV guard Anthony Marshall