Usama Zaid has emerged as the “difference-maker” on this year’s Titan men’s basketball team. He has recorded an average of 24.4 points, 9.15 rebounds and 2.04 steals throughout the season to help lead the Titans to a 23-6 record.
Originally from Los Angeles, Zaid has had to adjust to being nearly 900 miles away from his number one support system — his family.
“There have been times that I would have called it quits if it wasn’t for my family,” Zaid said. ”[They] just keep me motivated and tell me to keep pushing.”
Without his family to motivate him all these years, Zaid wouldn’t be the player he is today. He has been playing basketball for most of his life, beginning when he was just three years old. Some of his fondest memories are on the blacktop back in L.A.
“I was about four and my pops was teaching me how to shoot a layup,” Zaid said. “He just use to always tell me to focus on the square of the backboard and hit it right there, it will go in every time. Before I started playing organized [basketball], it was all on the blacktop, a broken up court and 9.5 foot rim. Not that much space, but we made it work.”
Bruce Chavka, the men’s basketball coach, is fortunate to have a versatile player like Zaid on his team. Chavka recruited Zaid through one of his good friends, a coach from East L.A. Community College, where Zaid redshirted last year.
“I use the term that he’s the strongest, fastest, biggest guy at recess,” Chavka said. “He just sort of dominates. He has that alpha male mentality where he wants to rebound, defend and get lots of points.”
Zaid ended the regular season as the Northwest Athletic Conference leading scorer, as well as third in steals and fourth in rebounding. His ability to make plays in critical moments and be a “difference-maker” is something that Coach Chavka continually reiterates when describing Zaid as a player.
“Sometimes you have a really good team, but you don’t have that ‘difference-maker’ that can get a basket when you need it. From a coaching point of view, it’s like when we need a basket, let’s run something for him and we pretty much know he’s going to score.”
There’s no denying Zaid’s profound presence on the basketball court. However, like many student-athletes, juggling both academics and a rigorous basketball schedule is a difficult undertaking.
“I just try to [use] every little bit of time that I have, gear it towards schoolwork because that’s the only way to keep your head above water,” Zaid stated. “Trying to stay focused in the classroom after you just took an ‘L,’ trying to finish out three essays and a speech, all on Sunday. That’s been extremely tough for me.”
Zaid has learned to balance school and athletics and attributes all his success to his hard work and passion for the game.
“I think with all players it’s just about how much you want it. How much you love the game and how much you want to get better at it. So, that’s going to affect how hard you work at it. … I just try and work harder than everybody.”
His teammate, freshman guard Chase Iwata-Bartelme, has great respect for Zaid and the way he plays the game.
“[I’ll miss] his work ethic. He’s a great leader; he really wants to succeed, not just for himself, but also for his teammates,” Iwata-Bartelme said. “That goes off the court, too. He practically lives with me, so he’s like a brother.”
Zaid, with the help of Iwata-Bartelme and the rest of his team, has high hopes for the rest of the season.
“I feel like we’re a really good team when we play together and we could do big things. We could definitely win the championship and that’s what we’re pushing for.”
Zaid has had an insurmountable amount of success thus far this season. He hopes to continue to be the “difference maker” as the Titans start their playoff run.
“This year gave me a great opportunity that I’ve never had at the college level. I never got to be the head of the team and asked to lead a team, and really go out there and play my game. I just appreciate the coaches for all they did, for all they helped me with and I appreciate my teammates for having faith in me and allowing me to do what I do out there on the court.”
The Titans begin the first round of playoffs on March 5 against the winner of Highline vs S. Puget Sound.