AUBURN — Yusuf Iman slid the DVD in, pressed play, and listened to the sage words of, of all people, Charles Barkley.
“Charles Barkley said Michael Jordan was never afraid to miss a last-second shot. That’s why he was the most prepared to make it,” Iman recalled.
Those words stuck with Edward Little’s senior guard, who demonstrated during the 2009-10 season that it’s not about being afraid to make a mistake, but being prepared to know what to do if one had been made.
Iman is the Sun Journal’s All-Region Player of the Year not just because he averaged 17.6 points per game and was named the player of the year in the KVAC South. And not just because of his last-second heroics in a number of big games. Few players grew up more this season than the 6-foot-1 guard did, on and off the court.
He was a role player last year when EL won its first regional title in 52 years, charged with being the point guard who distributed the ball to a talented contingent of scorers. As one of two returning starters this season, Iman knew he would have to pick up a lot of the slack, and he knew that meant following the same blueprint numerous other players, from Troy Barnies to Corey Therriault, have followed during coach Mike Adams’ tenure — reporting to the weight room and the gym on a regular basis.
“He put the time in and his game progressed according to what our team needed, and he did everything that we’ve asked him” Adams said.
Working to improve is one thing, but most great players need something else to take their game to the next level — confidence. Iman believed he was making the transition from role player to leader, but he needed to see tangible results on the court for reassurance. Joining MBR.org’s AAU team, already stocked with the state’s top basketball talent such as EL teammate James Philbrook and future Mr. Maine Basketball Indiana Faithfull, provided buckets full of reassurance.
“Playing with the MBR team was the biggest help for me in terms of my confidence level,” he said. “Coach Carl Parker started bringing me out of my shell because before, I was a role player.”
Iman knew he would have to come even more out of his shell when Philbrook, the team’s star center, was hobbled by turf toe early in the season. Iman still kept his younger teammates involved, but there was little doubt who was making the Red Eddies live up to their preseason billing as one of the KVAC’s favorites.
But deep down, Iman was still reluctant to fully accept his new leadership role, and he demonstrated that reluctance when he showed up late for school on the day of EL’s game against Mt. Ararat. By team rule, Adams benched Iman for the game.
“It was about the midway point of the season and we felt this could make or break us, really,” Adams said.
Adams wondered how Iman would react to sitting out the game and how the team would react to it. Iman sat on the bench humbled but immediately embraced his leadership responsibilities.
“Yusuf was great. He was on the bench being very vocal and cheering on his teammates and acting like a coach,” Adams said. “He was obviously mad and disappointed in himself because he knew that he had made a mistake, but if that’s the biggest mistake a high school kid makes, you’ve got a pretty good situation going on. He’s a great role model. He walks into the YMCA for our youth basketball program and little kids flock to him.”
“That made me take a step back and realize my leadership role and how I have to adjust my actions,” he said. “Once you get into a position like that, the team looks up to you. You become a figurehead. I realized that whatever I do everyone is going to follow behind it and I’ve got to set a good example, not only on the court but mostly off the court.”
Led by Iman, the Eddies won 14 straight. The streak was nearly cut short in mid-January, when Brewer took them to overtime. In his first chance this season to take the last shot, Iman hit a 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer.
“I’ll tell you what, during the summertime, I missed three game-winning shots,” Iman said. “I take a lot of things to heart. I take a lot of things personally, like putting the team on my back in the last second of the game. It’s a lot of weight on your shoulders, but during the season, it just motivated me even more, because I figured I had to be that player to step up to hit those shots. I had the confidence because I wasn’t afraid to miss it.”
EL won its third KVAC title in four years, then pulled off three straight comebacks in the Eastern A tournament to make it back-to-back regional titles. One of those wins, against Bangor, featured another Iman buzzer-beater, a banked-in 3-pointer in overtime eerily similar to the one against Brewer.
The season ended with a five-point loss to Cheverus in the state title game. Just like the did following last season’s loss to Thornton Academy, the Eddies quickly reported right back to the weight room, led by Iman, who continues leading even though he will be playing his basketball at the University of Maine at Farmington next winter.
Adams said that will be Iman’s legacy at Edward Little.
“He made his teammates better and he made the coaches better and, obviously, he made himself a lot better over his four-year career,” he said.