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Freshman Rhamat Alhassan has played volleyball only three years but has proven to be a quick study.

Thursday August 14, 2014The Natural: Alhassan Has Made Transition from Basketball to Volleyball Look Easy

Freshman Rhamat Alhassan has played volleyball only three years but has proven to be a quick study.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

Gators freshman Rhamat Alhassan shows off her blocking ability for the U.S. U20 team last month.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Once she got on the Florida volleyball coaching staff’s radar, Rhamat Alhassan quickly shot up the Gators’ wish list.

Gators associate head coach Dave Boos was the first to see Alhassan, at 6-foot-4 the tallest signee in the program’s history, actually play. A two-sport standout at Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, Md., Alhassan was a basketball recruit long before she added volleyball to her schedule as a sophomore in high school.

The first couple of tournaments Boos traveled to expecting to see Alhassan play, she was a no-show because of her hoops commitment.

Finally, their paths crossed. Gators head coach Mary Wise recalls Boos’ phone call going something like this:

“Rhamat is here. She is definitely going to be No. 1 on our list,’’ Boos proclaimed over the phone.

“She’s that good?” Wise shot back.

“Oh, not at all. She doesn’t know anything about the game,’’ answered Boos.

The Gators’ interest in Alhassan proved worth it, and on Wednesday, a month after earning MVP honors and leading the U.S. to the title at the U20 NORCECA Continental Championships in Guatemala, Alhassan stood out inside the Lemerand Athletic Center during the team’s media day.

Of course, Alhassan has stood out most of her life.

“I honestly don’t know when I had my growth spurt,’’ she said. “I’ve just always been taller than everyone.”

But Alhassan brings more than height to a UF team that features five freshmen. She may be a volleyball infant, but she can play.

While her physical attributes are obvious as soon as you see her, her ability to quickly process information is what helped Alhassan gain as much recognition for her volleyball talent as her basketball skills.

“She just picked up the stuff faster than anybody I’ve ever coached in my life,” Academy of the Holy Cross coach Dave Geiser told The Washington Post last October. “Not just her physical movements, but the rules and the strategy and tactics. Everything.”

Wise echoed those sentiments Wednesday after only a few practices into preseason camp.

She came to volleyball relatively late,’’ Wise said. “In the world today, you would say very late. What a great learner she is. When we talk about a learning curve, her’s has been a straight line.”

Alhassan started playing basketball in seventh grade and soon began to draw interest from college coaches. Besides playing on her high school team, she was on an AAU squad and the tunnel vision began to take its toll. She needed a diversion and began to play volleyball on the Metro American club team, which also featured Gators sophomore Alex Holston.

When it was time for college, Alhassan made the decision to accept a volleyball scholarship rather than play basketball.

“It was definitely a hard one because I still love basketball,” she said. “It got to the point of where it was just playing games, games, games for like a month straight, and I just got tired, burnt out. That’s how I got into [volleyball], just for fun. Now I’m here.”

Alhassan’s decision made headlines back in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area, where her parents settled after moving to the U.S. from Ghana prior to her birth.

“She is a great athlete,” Wise said. “Rhamat could be playing basketball at a lot of places right now. We’re very fortunate she chose volleyball.”

A middle blocker with a formidable vertical leap -- check out the video below of her dunk attempt in high school -- Alhassan’s arrival should help fill the void left by the departure of Chloe Mann, the 2012 SEC Player of the Year and UF’s top player last season.

Junior outside hitter Gabby Mallette, like Wise, is impressed at how smooth Alhassan has transitioned from high school to college.

“She catches on to things very fast,’’ Mallette said. “As a left side and a middle, you have to be able to trust each other and communicate in what you are doing, and I trust her 100 percent. I don’t think I’ve really played with anyone as big as she is, just a long person.”

Alhassan said her stint with the U.S. U20 team over the summer kept her in shape and helped her improve her blocking skills, which the Gators will rely on heavily in Mann’s absence. She said she gets her height from her late father, who was 6-foot-7. Her mom is 5-4.

Despite her success in basketball, when Alhassan opted to play volleyball, she was uncertain how her athleticism would transfer from one court to the other. As proof, on the day of tryouts, she showed up for the junior-varsity tryouts, three hours prior to varsity tryouts.

Geisler asked why she was so early, telling her there was a spot on the varsity already reserved for her. Alhassan stayed anyway to get in the extra work.

He knew what Gators freshman defensive specialist Samantha Dubiel has learned in her short time around Alhassan.

“She has a big advantage on most people with her length,’’ Dubiel said.

It’s also why Boos was so excited about Alhassan’s potential during that phone call to Wise on the recruiting trail.

Sure, she was raw and new to the game, but her natural talent is the kind that makes coaches dream of the possibilities.

“He saw in her athletic skills and how hard she played, that she could get there,” Wise said.

And now she’s here.


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