When Basheer Jihad was 5 years old, he played basketball for the first time, but he didn’t take much interest in the sport. He stopped playing and decided to go on to soccer.
However, as the now-freshman forward continued his childhood, he decided to return to the sport that would eventually be a staple of his life.
Jihad has six siblings. He considers his oldest brother, Yusuf, who currently is a redshirt freshman center for Eastern Michigan University, a big part of his life along with their father, Garett.
Basheer’s natural ability caught the attention of his coaches at a young age, and Garett said it was a big reason why he returned to basketball and continued playing until college. Basheer also said watching Yusuf and his cousins playing motivated him to play.
Yusuf and Basheer would always play against each other when they were younger, and it is what they said helped shape them as not only players but brothers.
“I wouldn’t beat him until later on,” Basheer said. “He used to beat me all of the time. I used to come close sometimes, but he used to always beat me. The day came where I finally got a win. It was just about competing more and blossoming from there.”
Garett said the competition was always friendly. Basheer and Yusuf spent many years competing with each other one-on-one and eventually got the opportunity to play with each other for one year at North Farmington High School in Detroit.
“They weren’t always together in the same grade, but they did get a chance to play together for varsity in one year,” Garett said. “They always kind of complemented each other. We always enjoyed watching them play together — it is going to be strange seeing them go against each other.”
Basheer said playing with and against Yusuf helped him with more than just basketball. He said it taught him about hard work and working to improve at whatever someone wants to do in life.
“It definitely taught me competition and working for something,” Basheer said. “It also helps me see the progress. The day I beat him, I could tell I was getting better and improving at my game.”
Yusuf echoed Basheer’s sentiments about brotherhood and what they meant to one another on and off the court.
“In games, we would always be telling each other what we can do better and just pushing each other to work out and those kinds of things,” Yusuf said. “Those are all of the things that helped us grow as brothers and at basketball.”
Basheer’s basketball career took off in high school, as he was named one of the top-10 prep players in Michigan his senior season and was a candidate for Michigan’s “Mr. Basketball” by the Detroit Free Press after helping North Farmington rank top-10 in the state. He also averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds per game his senior season. He said he credits his coaches for helping him get to the next level.
“The coaches made me the player I am,” Basheer said. “They taught me all of the fundamental things and all of the tools I needed — I really give credit to them.”
After graduating high school this past spring, Basheer had the decision to make about where he wanted to play basketball. He received offers from Oakland University, Youngstown State, Eastern Michigan and Ball State. Garett said he stayed out of the decision, and Basheer made it himself.
“I kind of stayed out of it with him on that,” Garett said. “We did have a good meeting with [Ball State head] coach [James] Whitford when we did the Zoom call and everything. I think we took that and the promises of developing [Jihad] as a player.”
Basheer chose Ball State and loved the fact he would have unlimited resources to practice and could improve his game.
“I feel like it is a family here,” Jihad said. “This place has the right tools for me to get to where I need to go. The practice facility, that is the biggest thing. That is a really big thing for me, just being able to come in here any time of the day. I am just trying to use them to the best of my ability.”
Whitford recruited Basheer because of his abilities on the court and what he describes as his “competitive character.”
“The biggest thing that sticks out to me is his character,” Whitford said. “He is extreme in the category of what I call ‘competitive character’ — he is highly competitive. He really wants to be a good player. He works at it. He is a team-first guy all of the way.”
Whitford said there was another characteristic that jumped out to him when he was interviewing Basheer to get to know him better: his willingness to always put in the hard work.
“He wanted a place where there were no shortcuts and where he had to earn everything,” Whitford said. “That struck me as very impressive in making a decision.”
In his first season with the Cardinals, Basheer has averaged 14 points and five rebounds. He said it has been an adjustment learning how to contribute in Division I basketball, but he loves where he is at so far.
“It has been a long road since the summer,” Jihad said. “It has been a grind. I came in, like a lot of freshmen, lacking a lot of things. I lacked [basketball] IQ. It has been a long haul. Each and every day, I keep improving — I am just excited for where things can go.”
Life will come full circle for Yusuf and Basheer when Ball State faces Eastern Michigan Jan. 8. Yusuf said it is still surreal that both of them get to play Division I basketball.
“It is unreal,” Yusuf said. “It is so awesome to be in the same conference as my brother. As Muslims, we are like an anomaly — we aren’t supposed to be here. Muslim basketball players are not as common. It is just weird how we are doing things a lot of people haven’t done before.”