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LSU Basketball Set to Retire Mahmoud Abdul Rauf's No. 35 Jersey at Halftime of Matchup with Texas A&M

Abdul Rauf talks legacy, time at LSU ahead of jersey retirement ceremony
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For the first time in two decades, the rafters in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center will grace another jersey, another legendary name at its epicenter.

At halftime of the LSU-Texas A&M game on Saturday, the Tigers will officially retire the No. 35, worn by Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, known in the 1988 and '89 seasons as Chris Jackson. Abdul Rauf left behind a historic legacy in his two years with the LSU program, most notably his 30.2 point per game freshman season that remains an NCAA record to this day.

For Abdul Rauf, adjusting to the college style of play didn't sink in until his third game. At 5-foot-11, he even told sports information director Kent Lowe in his first ever interview that he thought averaging around 13 points and seven assists a game would count as a successful career. 

The freshman dropped 12 points in his opener and another 21 in his second game of his freshman season. After that second game, coach Dale Brown pulled Abdul Rauf aside and said 'look we need you to score more.'

"So I said I'll try coach," Abdul Rauf said. 

The third opponent of the season was Louisiana Tech and that game marked the arrival of Abdul Rauf to the college basketball world as the freshman dropped 48 points in a 111-109 loss.

"At that moment it's like ok, I think I can do this," Abdul Rauf. "At the same time, you never truly know when you've arrived because anything can happen. I think that's what kept me training hard in the basement gym because I was always expecting teams to change things up."

That performance was only just the start as Abdul Rauf just two games later dropped 53 on Florida to become the first LSU player since Pete Maravich to score 50+ points in a game. He would score 50+ points a total of four times in his illustrious two year career and 40+ points an additional 11 times.

Despite all the records which he still carries to this day, success in college was never the goal for a young Abdul Rauf. 

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"My goal was I want to be the best NBA player I can be," Abdul Rauf said. "It was never in my thoughts okay, I wanna be the all time leading scorer as a freshman [in NCAA history] and yet I went that route. I still pinch myself and I'm not exaggerating with anything I say. I literally still pinch myself."

Coach Will Wade equates Abdul Rauf's career to his players with another legendary scorer that most of the current players can relate to.

"Well I pretty much tell them he was Steph Curry before Steph Curry." Wade said.  "That's the best way you can describe it. We've seen video and that sort of thing but I mean to average 30 points as a freshman, it's just incredible. It takes some freshmen the first month to score 48 points, and good freshmen too. He was just a tremendous, tremendous player."

Abdul Rauf went on to have an 11-year NBA career where he mirrored his early success in college, scoring 48 points in his third career game as a member of the Denver Nuggets. He's since returned to playing basketball in the Big-3, a league meant for retired NBA players that still want to carry on their basketball dreams in some capacity.

But Baton Rouge always held a special place in Abdul Rauf's heart. He's been back for games over the years and still keeps in contact with his former teammates including Stanley Roberts and of course, coach Dale Brown.

"I enjoyed my teammates, enjoyed the campus life but I didn't go out a lot," Abdul Rauf said. "Because for me, basketball was life or death. I didn't see a future for myself academically, so I didn't know if I was going to have a chance of being successful. I gotta give everything I had to this game and hope it works out."

Abdul Rauf said he still hasn't been able to fully come to grips with his emotions on what his jersey being retired will feel like.

"I'm still trying to process and I know it's going to hit me so I just hope it doesn't hit me when I get on that court tomorrow," Abdul Rauf said. 

Legacy is not something he often thinks about but when asked on Friday what he wants his to be, he described it as someone who always stood up for what was right in life, not how he played on the court.

"Dale Brown used to say this back in the day, he'd say 'Chris is a great basketball player, but he's a greater person than he is a basketball player," Abdul Rauf said. "So when it's all said and done, basketball is just a tool as far as I'm concerned, and the most important thing for me is the person that I am and leaving that type of legacy. Just being a great person , standing up for what's right, that means more to me than winning in basketball."