HOUGHTON - It was a situation probably replicated hundreds of times in the SDC Gym over the past few years: Michigan Tech men's basketball assistant Josh Buettner going one-on-one with Ali Haidar.
But Monday, Buettner was going toe-to-toe with a different Ali Haidar. Just like the one who left Houghton in 2013, he's still a big goofball, but now, he's a big goofball with a professional championship under his belt.
"It was a great experience. We had a great team. We had a lot of fun, a lot of wins. It was a great experience winning," Haidar said.
Ali Haidar plays one-on-one against Michigan Tech assistant coach Josh Buettner Monday morning in the SDC?Gym. Haidar, a Michigan Tech alum, was part of a championship team in his first professional season in his native Lebanon. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
After concluding his studies, Haidar moved back to Lebanon, from which he'd emigrated to Windsor, Ontario, Canada before being spotted by Michigan Tech's staff. This season, he played for Al-Riyadi, one of the most prominent clubs in Lebanon.
Haidar came off the bench for most of the season for the Beirut-based club, averaging 7.0 points and 3.5 rebounds but popped up with big contributions at times, including 19 points and nine rebounds in the pivotal fifth game of the best-of-seven championship series with fierce local rivals Sagesse, a series tied at two going in which Al-Riyadi ended up winning in six.
That championship was just part of the adjustment process both on and off the court for Haidar.
At 6-foot-7, Haidar could count on being one of, if not the most physically imposing player on the SDC court at any time. At Al-Riyadi, he's the fourth-biggest player on his team (which includes 7-2 former NBA draft pick Loren Woods), which put him at the 'four' position. In the overseas game, that includes a lot more outside shooting and guard skills than he did at Tech.
"That's what I'm working a lot more on this summer, so I do a lot better next year," he said.
In addition to the bigger players, the 24-second shot clock makes for a faster game that requires more read-and-react situations as opposed to the lengthy, detailed sets the Huskies have used successfully.
Off the court, Haidar has found himself with a lot more time to himself, without having to worry about his studies and without the benefit of a close-knit college environment.
"In the pros, everybody has their families, some of them are married, they have their own business," he said.
Still, Haidar has been making the most of that time, putting in extra workouts and maintaining his body in hopes of laying the foundation for a long career.
"It didn't affect me, because I have higher goals. I know I'm playing professional, but my goals are a lot higher. I want to make it to a better league, so I'm still focused, still determined to achieve my goals," he said.
Still, while he's in Houghton visiting friends before going back for another season at Al-Riyadi, he's getting a taste of the good old days.
"I love the people here, I love being here, I miss our fans, all the support and love from the fans, and you know what, you do miss the college life. It's different than the pros. It's fun, minus the exams and the studying," he said.