Kareem is one of top players in conference.
CLARKSVILLE, ARK. -- Habeeb Kareem just shakes his head and grins when asked how the Houston, Texas, native ended up in rural Arkansas at University of the Ozarks. <#IMAGE:1#> “Sometimes I’m amazed myself how I got here,” he said. “You don’t expect someone from Houston to be playing basketball at a small college in Arkansas, but I love it here. This is where I belong.” That feeling goes both ways: The burly 6-foot-4 sophomore center is a big reason the Ozarks basketball team is off to a 10-4 start and in second place in the American Southwest Conference, three games behind league-leader Mississippi College. “When we recruited Habeeb, we knew he had the potential to be a pretty good player, but he’s been even better than we expected,” Ozarks Coach Matt O’Connor said. Kareem is the Eagles’ leading scorer, and is among the conference’s top 10 in scoring (17.4), rebounding (7.5) and field goal shooting (53 percent). A two-time ASC East Player of the Week so far this season, he has recorded six double-doubles and has led the Eagles in scoring in 13 of their 17 games. Playing on a Class 5A Texas high school team, George W. Bush High School, that had no fewer than five players go on to play college basketball, Kareem flew under the recruiting radar during his senior season. Though he was a two-year starter in high school, he was mainly a role player on a team oozing with Division I-caliber talent. “I played with guys who are now playing at Oregon, Texas Southern and other Division I schools, so I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to shoot the ball and I really didn’t get recruited very heavily,” said Kareem. “But I knew if I ever got the chance that I could be successful in college. I just needed the opportunity.” That opportunity came at NCAA Division III Ozarks. As a freshman, Kareem made an immediate impact, stepping into the starting lineup and scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in his first college game. It was a sign of things to come, as he went on to earn ASC All-East Division honorable mention honors after averaging 14.4 points and shooting 61.7 percent from the field. “He’s got a very good feel for the game and a good sense of his strengths and weaknesses,” said O’Connor. “He’s one of the best players I’ve seen as far as using his broad shoulders to get an angle to the basket, and he can finish with either hand. He’s a player who gets the most out of his abilities.” Often going up against opponents several inches taller, Kareem uses his strength, quick footwork, soft hands and a plethora of offensive moves to gain the upper hand. One of his favorite moves is a soft hook shot that he sinks with surprising regularity. “I know that I’m not the tallest player around, but I believe that I’m as strong or stronger than most of them and that I’m quicker,” he said. “I have to come up with ways to get my shot off and the hook shot is something I worked a lot on in high school. I look at it as a personal challenge when I play against a taller player.” Kareem gets special satisfaction playing against the many Texas colleges that make up the ASC. “My parents get to see me play quite a bit when we’re down there (in Texas), plus I enjoy playing against a lot of those guys that I played against in high school,” he said. “I like to show them how much I’ve improved. It’s definitely a motivation for me.” While Kareem has made an easy transition to college on the basketball court, he admits it was a little more difficult to adjust to small-town living. “It wasn’t easy, especially the first couple of months,” he said. “But my roommate, Chris Clark, is from Dallas, so I had someone who kind of knew what I was going through, and we helped and encouraged each other. Now I love the small-town atmosphere.” Kareem also loves the emphasis on academics at Ozarks. “I want to be an athletic trainer and at a small school like Ozarks I can go in and work with our trainer and get that hands-on experience that I couldn’t get at a larger school,” he said. “You build relationships here that you couldn’t build at bigger schools.”