March Madness: Kennesaw State's Amir Abdur-Rahim cries 'tears of joy' after program's first NCAA bid comes to an end

Kennesaw State coach Amir Abdur-Rahim was in tears after his Owls lost to Xavier Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

But they weren't out of sorrow. The fourth-year coach broke down in what he described as "tears of joy" while talking about KSU's first-ever NCAA tournament bid in his fourth year as head coach. Let Abdur-Rahim explain after being asked if "this is the beginning of something huge:"

"With all due respect, the beginning was four years ago," Abdur-Rahim said. "We're here today, man, because ..."

That's when the waterworks started flowing.

"The beginning was four years ago," he repeated. "These are tears of joy, man. Because we made a commitment to this university; we made a commitment to these guys sitting next to me that were gonna show up every day for them.

"When you get to a place like this — again, these are tears of joy. Because it takes a special group of people to commit to something and stay to see that vision through. So the beginning was four years ago. You better believe that this is our standard. This is our expectation. And we'll be back."

Owls were 1-28 four years ago, never made NCAAs

Abdur-Rahim, 41, gave his answer while sitting next to senior guard Terrell Burden, who's played all four years since Abdur-Rahim took the job. Fellow seniors Alex Peterson and Spencer Rodgers were also on the podium, as was junior Chris Youngblood.

Abdur-Rahim's debut as an NCAA head coach did not go well. The Owls finished 1-28 in 2019-20, his first year on the job. Kennesaw State has followed that up with 5-19 and 13-18 campaigns since. But this year, the program broke through.

The Owls finished 26-8 this season and secured a tie atop the ASUN regular season with a 15-3 conference record. They then won three straight games to win the conference tournament and secure the program's first-ever NCAA tournament bid. Kennesaw State joined Division 1 in 2005 and had never posted a winning record in conference play until this season.

2023 truly was a breakthrough. And the Owls almost took it one step further. As a No. 14 seed, Kennesaw State led No. 3 seed Xavier by as many as 13 point on Friday before the Musketeers rallied for a 72-67 win. While there's certainly some sadness in the loss, there's plenty more to celebrate for a fledgling program that just made a major break through.

Tears of joy were in order.

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