It’s fitting that Cinderella’s star would have this story.
Lightly recruited. Overlooked. Mostly forgotten.
Oral Roberts wasn’t expected to even reach the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles were the fourth seed in the Summit League Tournament.
When Max Abmas came out of high school, only five schools offered him a scholarship.
Together, Abmas and Oral Roberts have stormed March Madness. The Golden Eagles are just the second 15th seed to reach the Sweet 16, and the 6-foot-1 sophomore has led them there as the tournament’s leading scorer.
“Being in the NCAA Tournament, having an opportunity to compete against the top teams in the country, that’s always one of your dreams,” Abmas said this week over Zoom, as Oral Roberts was preparing to meet No. 3 seed Arkansas in a South Region semifinal game Saturday. “It’s just one of those things that I’ll be able to remember for the rest of my life.”
Abmas was a two-star recruit out of Jesuit College Prep in Dallas, landing offers from Army, Navy, Air Force, Marist and Oral Roberts. College coaches saw him. He played AAU with 3-D Sports, and was a high school teammate of Julius Marble II, who plays for Michigan State.
“I was talking to a lot of them, but none of them really [offered],” Abmas said.
Oral Roberts — in particular assistant coach Russell Springmann, who landed Kevin Durant at Texas years ago — saw something in him that others didn’t.
The speedy and skilled Abmas had a solid freshman year, starting all 31 games for the Tulsa, Okla., university, and averaging 14.5 points per game. But this kind of breakout season was unexpected. He improved across the board, from his shooting percentages, which went up, to his rebounds, steals and assists. And he led the country in scoring at 24.5 points per game while shooting 43.1 percent from 3-point range. He has become known as “Midcourt Max,” for the unlimited range on his jump-shot.
Though Abmas was off to a strong start this year, the big change happened in early February, when third-leading scorer RJ Glasper went down with an injury. Abmas has averaged 29.2 points per game since then and the Golden Eagles have lost just twice, taking a seven-game winning streak into Saturday.
“We’re a much different team than we were earlier this year simply because Max is way more ball-dominant than he was previously,” Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills said. “Once our third-leading scorer went down, we told Max that he would have to be more assertive.”
In the first game after Glasper’s injury, Abmas exploded for 42 points. He scored at least 30 in each of the next three games, and is averaging 27.5 points in a pair of wins over Ohio State and Florida in the tournament. Now the Golden Eagles and Abmas face Arkansas, which defeated them, 87-76, back on Dec. 20, and held Abmas to 11 points. That was before Glasper’s injury, before Abmas truly took off.
“What I didn’t realize is how much he loves the moment,” Mills said. “He enjoys the moment. He doesn’t shy away from it. This young man thrives in these situations.”