The graduate transfer and 2nd Team All-MAC performer averaged 16.2ppg and shot 88 percent from the charity stripe a year ago and, over the course of his career, has connected on 35.5% of his tries from long distance.
El-Amin, the son of former UConn star Khalid El-Amin, exudes maturity. From the way he approaches his craft to how he communicates day-to-day, the guard is thoughtful and confident, yet modest. He projects a sense of calm; he’s been there before – a trait welcomed on this 21-22 version of the Rams. He figures to slot right in as a stabilizing veteran and backcourt scoring option for David Cox.
I caught up for an engaging conversation with El-Amin where we explored several pathways related to his approach, motivations, and commitment to Rhody.
Chris DiSano: Game in one word or phrase.
Ishmael El-Amin: Leader. My approach and how I play.
CD: That answer jumped us to a question I would have hit further in the interview, so let’s detour there now. You are an experienced, fifth year, player. What does leadership and demonstrating it mean to you?
IE-A: To me, leadership is doing it without being told and without eyes on you. Being able to go get your workouts in, your lift session in, go to physical therapy, go to your trainer – doing those things that are going to keep you on top of your game and firing all cylinders without having anybody pushing you. That’s what it looks like to me. Of course, you can do it with your voice and/or your actions. Those are two ways you can see immediate impact.
CD: As you come to this program, are you more of a lead through action guy early on that will increase your vocal contribution later, or are you a “this is who I am” and I am going to be vocal from the jump?
IE-A: I’m vocal from jump street for sure. It’s who I am. The player and person I am. Especially when it comes to basketball and being in the gym, I’ve never been a quiet player or one where my voice is in the background. I’m not going to come in shy. Coach Cox wants me to come in and be myself. He’s made that a point that he wants me to come in, be myself, lead, and do all the things I’ve been doing in my college career and do them at a better level here at Rhody.
CD: You have to wrap up classes at BSU now of course. When do you expect to arrive in Kingston?
IE-A: I’ll be there by May 22nd.
CD: Great, let’s shift to the court and talk defense for a moment. What have you learned most on the defensive side of the ball since day one in your college career?
IE-A: Scouting is very important. From my years at Ball State, the past couple, I’ve been guarding the best shooter on the floor or the best player on the floor depending on whether K.J. Walton was playing or not. Keying in on scouting, their tendencies… I was always asking for extra film trying to get a better feel of the guys I’d be guarding.
To add another, being active is huge and staying in the game. Knowing that defense leads to offense and, for me, easy points are easy to love. If I can create easy points for me and my team without us needing to exert as much on the offensive end, I’m going to try to be that guy.
CDD: I know you’ve discussed generally with others about the relationship you formed with the coaches being an important factor in your decision to attend Rhody. Let’s drill deeper. What specifically about the relationships convinced you this program is the right place for you?
IE-A: For me, the first was that Coach [Austin] Carroll and Coach Cox told me that they’d been aware of me and seen a lot of me. It was big for me. My plan was to go pro. I didn’t have a plan to come back to college. Understanding how much those guys knew about my game and me was huge. I wanted to go somewhere I was wanted and needed.
I also knew Fatts (Russell) was leaving, so I knew they were losing a veteran guard who had put up big numbers consistently over his college career. I knew that needed to be filled. As we continued to build our relationship, I could see that they saw me in their system and I saw myself there. I was the most complete roster and best overall fit of all the teams recruiting me. I only have a year left and want to make the most of it. I want to win an Atlantic 10 Championship and get to the NCAA Tournament.
CD: When Coach mentioned their system, what was described that helped you see yourself fitting in?
IE-A: If you rebound, you go. They play fast, want to score quick. Play to your strengths. If you show the coaching staff the work that you put in, then when it comes to game time, Coach Cox will trust you through mistakes.
I sat down with grad transfer Ish El-Amin @TheNextElAmin TheNextElAmin from Ball State on @RhodyRumble. He will be joining Coach Cox and the Rams this fall. The 6-foot-3 guard is a two-time All-MAC player. #rhodymbb https://t.co/gBDcVjiXX1
— Adam Bernstein (@AdamBernstein18) April 29, 2021
CD: What are your individual areas of emphasis right now regarding your game development?
IE-A: The weight room. Adding 6 to 8 pounds of lean muscle to add to my frame and take a couple more bumps. And my overall appearance, helping my legs. On the court, touching everything up – working on my ball handling, jumper off the dribble, touch around the rim, and range. I’ve never been one to highlight just one area. Attacking every aspect of my game.
CD: Last year Rhode Island struggled taking care of the ball. It cost the team a few wins. You appear to be an ideal fit as someone who has carried a positive assist-to-turnover ratio throughout your career. What is your secret there?
IE-A: For me, it’s slowing myself down.
Being able to think ahead of the other team and, also, just knowing where to put the ball in places where my teammates can be successful. When I get to campus, around the guys, and we can get on the court with one another it’ll be easier. I tend to learn my teammates tendencies and spots quickly.
When I find out where they like having the ball, how they like to get their shot off, types of shots they’d prefer to take (like a transition three versus a spot up off a set)… Being able to know those things, when it comes game time it’s natural.
Another one… I have to give credit to Coach Whitford at Ball State. He always says, “when guys get below the free throw line, they make simple plays.” For me, when I get into the teeth of the defense, I’ve learned to be patient, use my pivot, allow things to open up.
CD: What is the best piece of advice that Dad has given you?
IE-A: My dad always said to me, “The work you put in is not always going to be noticed, and that’s a good thing.”
He said this to me a while ago when guys were posting on social media they were going to the gym and other things. I’ve never been one to do that and, after he said that, I told myself that I want people to think I’m not in the gym. I want you to think I’m not there. It’s how I’ve gotten through and that always pops back into my head.
— Ish El-Amin (@TheNextElAmin) April 1, 2021
CD: We just passed Mother’s Day… what piece of your on-court personality do you get from Mom?
IE-A: I get my swagger from my Mom.
CD: Nice. Two more quick ones — Is this the first time sharing the back court with another Ish [Ishmael Leggett]? It’s got to be, right? How do you feel about that?
IE-A: [laughs] It is. This will be the first time playing with someone with the same name as me. It’s gonna be different. I’ve never had to be concerned with someone saying Ish and two guys turning around [laughs]. I think we’ll both enjoy it. We’ll find a way to make it work.
CD: Complete this sentence: In Ishmael El-Amin, David Cox and Rhode Island are getting a player who ___________________…
IE-A: …who is a winner and who’s coming to come in from day one and be ready to put the work in. Who is not going to complain. I’m coming to work, I’m coming to win, and I’m coming to be a positive influence for the younger guys on the team. I’m going to be myself and allow myself to embrace the position I’m blessed to be in.
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44