Nazr said his basketball juices are flowing again and some wonder if he could be the presence in the middle that could stop Shaq in the East.
[Only registered and activated users can see links. ]: When he played for Kentucky, big man Nazr Mohammed personified reinvention. He came in 1995 as a 300-pound freshman. "A long-term project," then coach Rick Pitino said. Long-term came to mean three years.
Mohammed left after his junior season some 60 pounds lighter and owner of a r?sum? weighted down with accomplishments: two national-championship rings, three Final Four appearances and first-round draft status.
This summer, which ends Tuesday, showed that Mohammed's evolution continues. Though a proven six-year NBA veteran now, he continued to refine his body and his game in workouts in Lexington and his hometown of Chicago.
"Learning never ends," he said by cell phone in Atlanta rush-hour traffic.
Mohammed hopes his latest bit of learning proves beneficial next season because he's escaped the NBA backwaters (the Hawks) to play for one of the league's marquee teams, the New York Knicks.
"I feel I'm back in college again, where fans are into the game," said Mohammed, a thinly veiled reference to Atlanta's morbid franchise. "I almost feel I've been reborn in terms of my basketball juices."
Mohammed dismissed the suggestion that endorsement opportunities from playing in New York also fueled his renewed enthusiasm. He said he plays for "respect from coaches and peers. We're all going to make money.
"When you play for a winning team, people feel you're a winner. When you're on a losing team, people tend to forget what you can do."
Mohammed is the only true center on the Knicks' roster. Power forwards Kurt Thomas and Vin Baker figure to be his backups.
So no surprise that the Knicks' strength coach, Greg Brittenham, spoke well of Mohammed and the contributions the Knicks expect from the former Cat. "We have high expectations for him," the coach said a few minutes after saying, "Nazr has risen to the challenge to change his body."
Mohammed downplayed Shaq's move to the East as motivation.
"Shaq's going to be Shaq," he said. "We played him two times (a season) before. Now it will be four. There's still 78 other games I have to play well and compete."
With Brittenham's blessing and guidance, Mohammed worked out with Lexington-based trainer Allen Cress this summer.
Mohammed also went to Chicago to work with Knicks assistant coach Mark Aguirre.
Those Chicago sessions included Knicks rookie Mike Sweetney of Georgetown and pros Mike Finley, Paul Pierce, Corey Maggette and Eddy Curry. They hoped to improve in the low post.