Former Jesuit Dallas basketball star Max Abmas has led Oral Roberts to its second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last four years after winning the Summit League Tournament and earning an automatic bid.
After being eliminated in the conference semifinals by North Dakota State and missing the tournament a year ago, Oral Roberts was on a mission to return to the NCAA Tournament.
That motivation led to a spectacular season in which the Golden Eagles won 30 games, went unbeaten in conference play, consistently received votes in the AP TOP 25 Poll, and will enter the NCAA Tournament on a 17-game winning streak.
“I think what the team has done this year is incredibly special,” Abmas told The Dallas Express. “To go undefeated in conference and then win the conference championship is definitely big time. We’re excited for the opportunity.”
“Before the season, our goal was to win the conference tournament and get back to the tournament,” he continued. “We’ve done that, but the job’s not finished. We didn’t want to make the tournament just to make it. We want to go in there and try to win some games.”
That is exactly what Oral Roberts did during its last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2021: win. Abmas led the team to the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed, becoming the breakout star before a narrow loss to Arkansas.
Abmas averaged 24.5 points and 3.8 assists that season and scored at least 25 points in all three tournament games.
“I think sophomore year is when I made the biggest jump,” he told The Dallas Express. “We lost a lot of seniors that had been on the team, and it was kind of open for anyone to take that point guard position.”
“I knew he was going to be good, but no one thought he’d lead the country in scoring and take his team on that tournament run as a sophomore,” Jesuit Dallas head coach Chris Hill said to The Dallas Express.
“Max has always been that kind of player — first one in, last one out. He had the work ethic to be a big player.”
The historic sophomore season was just the beginning for Abmas, who is sixth in the nation in scoring this season with 22.2 points per game and has averaged 20.9 for his career. Thanks to incredible vision and a unique ability to control the floor, he has continued to grow at the collegiate level.
“It opens the court up for all five of us on the court,” Abmas said while talking about his playing style.
“A lot of times, teams lock in on me, try to get the ball out of my hands, and throw a bunch of different defenses at me. I’m just out there playing basketball the right way, and when they do that, they’re leaving my teammates open. … We just all trust one another and just go out and do what we work on.”
Abmas traveled from Rockwall to Jesuit Dallas during high school, playing one year on junior varsity, due to state rules, before spending three years on varsity.
“We wanted to put him on freshmen,” Hill recalled. “But the coach was saying he was just too good. So we moved him to JV, and it was kind of funny because all these guys would give the ball to Max when they needed big shots.”
Abmas credits Jesuit with much of his growth and success while adjusting to the college game.
“I think at Jesuit, we had a great coaching staff in itself,” Abmas said.
“The way we were playing basketball just translated so well to the next level, and I think coach did a good job of helping us learn that early and doing that for four years there. That way, the transition to college isn’t that bad, and you’re just transitioning to the speed of the game.”
“I’m not sure what it is, but we always have confidence in our players and allow them some freedom,” Hill said. “Maybe that’s what helped. I don’t really know ORU’s scheme, but I’m sure there are similarities there, too.”
Despite leading Jesuit in scoring each season as a high school player, Abmas received only five offers to play Division I basketball — the three military academies, Marist University, and Oral Roberts.
“I wasn’t heavily recruited, but I ended up with a coaching staff at Oral Roberts that believed in me,” Abmas. “I believed in what they were doing and wanted to make an impact on the program.”
Now, Abmas gets one more chance to make a Cinderella run in the same tournament he made a name for himself in two years ago.
“This one’s special, for sure. I mean, it’s [my] senior season, and to be able to win the championship this year is definitely something special,” he said as he reflected on his college career.
“Just with the group of guys that we have. We’ve got older guys who all had that same goal that brought us together of trying to win a championship. So definitely special for all of us.”
“I’ve kind of just tried to stay in the moment and really enjoy every step of the way,” he added. “I think that when it’s all said and done, I’ll really be able to look back and enjoy it a lot more. But I think so much of basketball is just staying in the moment. I know that this year, we want to end it with a run in the NCAA Tournament for sure.”