Q&A with Mustapha Farrakhan
The Virginia men’s basketball team ends a 10-day break for exams on Friday (Dec. 17) when the Cavaliers host Oregon at John Paul Jones Arena. The game is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m., will be televised by Comcast SportsNet and is the second of eight consecutive home games for UVa. Virginia is 6-3 on the season, has won its last three games and four of its last five. Senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan is averaging 10.6 points, 2.3 assists and 2.2 rebounds a game for the Cavaliers and scored a career-high 23 points in Virginia’s victory at Minnesota on Nov. 29. VirginiaSports.com talked to Farrakhan as Virginia prepared for its game with Oregon.
Question: Coach Bennett has talked about members of the team not letting their games be defined just by how they shoot the ball on a particular night. Is that something you’ve taken to heart?
Farrakhan: Yes, when I play if my shot’s not there I always try to do something else that helps the team. If it’s rebounding or getting assists or steals, blocks, whatever way I can get my team going. Once I feel like I get in all those areas I just feel like I’m lost in the game and then whatever happens, happens. That’s how I like to play. I don’t really like to think too much when I’m out there (on the court) I like to play off my instincts. I think when I’m involved in all those areas it helps me.
Question: After the Virginia Tech game Coach Bennett said he told the team before the game to show him what had been learned during the lengthy road trip. Do you feel each individual and the team itself learned a lot during the six consecutive games away from home?
Farrakhan: I think we did as far as knowing who you are as a player and your role on the floor. We didn’t really know much what to expect in Maui as far as everybody’s position and what to do. As we kept playing and coach kept talking to us about what he wants from us, I think everybody started getting better at it and more consistent. As far as moving the ball, taking good shots, driving for your teammate, really being a true teammate to one another and throwing yourself into the team. He always talks about being two feet in and just being for your team. I think everybody’s for each other and there’s a nice camaraderie.
Question: Do you feel the time on the road helped the team from a bonding standpoint?
Farrakhan: Yes, a lot. Everybody is just so happy for one another when somebody does well. When somebody’s not doing the best we know they can do we try our best to pick them up and stay in their ear. Will Sherrill and Will Regan, sometimes when I felt a little down, they came by me on the bench and said a couple words of encouragement. I think it helps out a lot when teammates help you out because they can see things on the floor. It really helped build team chemistry when we had those road games.
Question: You are one of the team captains and are taking more of a leadership role. Has that been a conscious effort on your part?
Farrakhan: Yes, I’m just trying to make sure the younger guys feel comfortable while we’re on the floor. We’re going into hostile environments. The Minnesota game and the Virginia Tech game were definitely hostile environments. I just try to comfort the younger guys and be someone they can look at and see ‘Mu’s composed out there so we can be composed. He’s not rattled so just come behind, rally behind and fight all together.’ I just try to be that type of force.
Question: How has the second year in Coach Bennett’s system been different for you, especially defensively?
Farrakhan: The first year we were picking it up pretty fast and sometimes you did well and sometimes you didn’t. I feel like this year it’s a little bit more solid. With this being my second year in the system I definitely know a little bit more of the rotations and where to be and how to anticipate a little better. When the whole team is doing it, it really looks good out there and when you can really stifle teams and keep them scoreless for a long period of time.
Question: Do you take pride in your defense?
Farrakhan: Yes, I definitely want to be a lock down defender. Just be solid, don’t get straight line driven and give my team time to pinch gaps, just don’t get beat quickly. I really want to play all aspects of the game the best I can.
Question: You’ve blocked five shots this season, can you talk a little bit about your shot-blocking ability?
Farrakhan: I’m pretty quick off my feet, so when I see an opportunity to block a shot I just give myself up for the team and make an aggressive play on it. Sometimes I get lucky and sometimes I don’t. I’m just happy when I can contribute in any way possible.
Question: You have both started and come off the bench this season. Do you feel your role changes at all depending on whether you’re starting or coming off the bench?
Farrakhan: No and I’ve really had to focus. When I play like I’m supposed to play that’s good for our team. On the road sometimes I lost my way a little bit, but coach continues to challenge me on being able to play the game and be patient and let it come. When I do that I think it’s better for the team. I just try to let it come and be an all around type of solid guy.
Question: The Radford game was the first of eight consecutive games at home. Are you looking forward to playing at home for a while?
Farrakhan: You get tired of people continuously yelling at you for all of those games. You feel good coming home and being around your crowd and feeling your crowd’s energy to push you through games. I look forward to playing these games.
Question: Can you believe this is your final year at Virginia and your final season of collegiate basketball?
Farrakhan: Not at all, it goes by so fast. I tell these young guys, ‘stay in the moment and enjoy it because it doesn’t last very long.’ I feel like I blinked and this is it, so when I come into practices and games I really soak it all in. I really appreciate what God has blessed me with through my talents and that my family has been able to see me on this type of stage.