By JORDAN IKEDA
Coaches and analysts like to talk about how defense wins championships. Scouts like to rave about athleticism and quickness. General managers look at potential upside. But when it comes right down to the bare bones reality of it, basketball is all about putting the ball in the hoop.
“My specialty is shooting,” Cosmo Morabbi told the Rafu Shimpo. “I’ve always been a shooter since I was little.”
Morabbi, a half-Japanese, half-Persian American from Beverly Hills plays shooting guard for the Citadel, a military school in Charleston, SC. Last year, he played his way into a rotation that went 20-13 and made the first postseason appearance in school history.
As a freshman, Morabbi averaged 18.8 minutes and 4.5 points per game, a far cry from his high school senior season at Beverly Hills High where he averaged 28 points and 8 rebounds.
“It’s completely different,” Morabbi said. “High school to college is a big step, but to D1 was a major step. The first ten games last year, I had a lot of trouble adjusting. But after that, you get used to it. Because everybody is athletic and has size, it’s a completely different game than high school.”
Adjustments, however, have been a way of life for the 6-2 guard. His father, Ali, is Iranian and his mother, Junko, is Japanese. This unique union has been a blessing in disguise for him.
“I get to see two different cultures,” Morabbi said in his smooth, laid-back tone. “I also get taught by two different cultures. I have a Japanese side—the discipline and all that. And then I also have the Persian side—where you’re always trying to get things done. It’s weird just having both because I feel like I get a little extra more than somebody else might.”
His combination of cultures has helped him adjust to the two completely different lifestyles of the ritzy, Hollywood-driven pizzazz of Beverly Hills and the relaxed, southern charm of Charleston. It’s also aided him in making the necessary adjustments in his basketball game.
Despite starting off his freshman campaign hitting only 9-43 threes, he finished the season at a 36 percent clip nailing 19-52 after a breakout game against Wofford where he hit 4-6. The Bulldogs lost that game, but then went on an 11-game winning streak, the longest in school history.
So far, this pre-season has been exhausting for. In addition to studying for 18 units of school work, Morabbi has also been rehabbing a bruised kneecap, a deep thigh contusion, and a sprained pinky (just like the injury Kobe Bryant has). All of that in addition to the 3-4 hours of daily practice. But he says he makes sure he gets enough sleep so he is alert and ready to practice hard.
“As a team we’re way far ahead of where we were at the same time last year,” he said, “because we have so many returning, but our coach has been really tough on the little things. Like where our eyes should be looking and each step we take on the defensive end. He likes using the term no ‘false steps.’”
Morabbi’s main goal this season is to shoot 40 percent from beyond the arc.
In order to reach this goal, he’s been spending 30 minutes a day one-hand form shooting so that the ball feels perfect on his release. Realistically, he sees about 20-25 minutes a game this season and the occasional 20-point explosion throughout the season if he can get to the rim consistently and finish.
He has bigger aspirations as well. Goals that will demand he muster every last drop of his Japanese discipline and every ounce of his Persian drive.
“A little part of me still dreams about the NBA,” Morabbi said. “I’m trying for that, that’s my number one goal. If I don’t get that, then hopefully there’s somewhere else that I can go.”
To dismiss this dream would be foolhardy. After all, Morabbi’s brother, Abe, widely considered the best “Persian basketball player on the planet” currently plays pro ball in Japan under the guise Ken Tanaka. And Morabbi has pretty much followed his brother in all aspects since he was a young buck playing on five teams at once.
“When I grew up in the Asian leagues, I was typically the biggest one on the court,” he said. “But I still tried to work on my guard skills because my brother kept telling me that I’m not going to be 6-8, 6-9, I’m going to be 6-2 so I’ve got to work on how to dribble the ball, shoot from the outside, things like that.
“I feel like I have been blessed to play for a school that plays really smart basketball. So you really have to know what’s going on, on the court. We know what the other team is going to run and all that. You want to have a good coach. You want to find a good coach somewhere where you can actually learn the game. Because not everyone is going to be blessed with athleticism—you can work hard to improve that. But if you can play smart basketball and find a way. That’s my main thing.
Morabbi has been working hard to improve his admittedly average athleticism. He’s really into weight lifting and speed work and has been searching for different ways every year to try something new. This year, he found Optical Sports and has been working with large rubber bands doing resistance training to increase his quickness.
“I heard an NBA scout talking and he said you only need to be great at one thing to make it. I believe I can shoot. If I can do that and just add mediocre NBA talent in speed, dribbling ability and passing, defense, I’ll be able to make it.”
Making it to Division I, let alone the NBA, takes more than just natural talent. It takes hard work, dedication, commitment, pain, and smarts. Clichéd though these attributes may sound, truth rings behind each and every one.
That’s why not too many people make it, especially Japanese American males.
Morabbi is looking to change this reality.
“I think me playing will open the doors and help little kids see that it’s possible because a lot of people don’t believe. There’s a way. There’s always a way. There’s always a chance. You have to keep believing in yourself.”