Citadel senior finds his stride

Citadel senior Cosmo Morabbi is averaging 13.5 points per game and shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor over his last five games.

RUSSELL K. PACE

The kid from Beverly Hills High School thought it would always be like this.

Cosmo Morabbi, a high school teammate of Los Angeles rapper Lil' Romeo, arrived at The Citadel in the fall of 2008 just in time for the best basketball season in Bulldogs history.

Morabbi was a key reserve on the 2008-09 team that won 20 games for just the second time in school history. He averaged 18.8 minutes and 4.5 points and even started four games as The Citadel won 13 straight games and secured the Bulldogs' first, and only, postseason bid.

"Freshman year was like a blur," says Morabbi, now a senior. "But since then, I've found out the hard way that it's hard to win, and that you have to treasure every moment on the court."

Those lessons came courtesy of a coaching change before his junior year that had Morabbi pondering a transfer, and a broken finger that cost him much of his junior season.

When he lost his starting job in December and didn't play a minute against crosstown rival College of Charleston, it looked like Morabbi's senior season might be lost as well.

But over the last five games, the 6-2 lefty guard has revived his season and sparked some momentum for a young Citadel team that hosts Southern Conference foe Elon tonight at McAlister Field House.

The Bulldogs' only senior, Morabbi scored a career-best 20 points in a 73-62 win over Samford last Saturday, and has averaged 13.5 points while shooting 59.1 percent from the field over the last five games.

"Cosmo is starting to play the way we had expected and hoped he would play," said second-year coach Chuck Driesell, whose team is 4-11 overall and 1-3 in the SoCon. "He's worked extremely hard, and last year was a

tough one for him. He was coming around and playing pretty well when he broke his finger, and that really set him back. But he's worked hard and maintained a great attitude and is really playing good ball right now."

Morabbi, the son of an Iranian father (Ali) and Japanese mother (Junko), was recruited out of Beverly Hills by ex-Citadel coach Ed Conroy and assistant Doug Novak. When the pair departed for Tulane in the spring of 2010, Morabbi considered leaving as well.

"It was a tough issue, a lot of things I had to account for," said Morabbi. "I actually wrote a couple of pages of why I should stay and why I should go -- school, being away from home, Coach Conroy leaving.

"I really trusted Coach Novak, because he helped me a lot my first two years. But after talking to Coach Driesell and seeing that I had a lot of opportunity here, it was too good to give up."

Despite his Beverly Hills pedigree, Morabbi has never been afraid of hard work. Even with a broken finger last season, he put in long hours in the gym to work on his shooting. And when benched earlier this season, Morabbi responded not by pouting, but by working even harder.

"Early in the season, I felt confident in what we were doing," he said. "But I think I focused too much on my offensive output, and when I didn't do well, I got down. When I didn't play against C of C, I said, 'This is not what I wanted.'

"Over winter break, when we had a lot of free time, I had a chance to come into the gym and get refocused, shoot more and get in better shape. I think that's really helped me."

A psychology major, Morabbi will graduate next spring and hopes to join his older brother, Abe, as a pro basketball player in Japan. Until then, there are a dwindling number of moments to treasure on court, starting with Elon tonight and UNC Greensboro on Saturday.

"These two games are big for us," he said. "If we win them both, we're 3-3 in the league. We've got to make a statement that we don't belong in the bottom of the league."