Those two giant, lanky guys walking through Fisk Hall? The ones who hunch over in the dining hall to avoid hitting their heads? One has shaggy hair, the other a thick accent?
Yeah, they are always together.
There is no doubt the relationship between freshmen basketball players Kale Abrahamson and Alex Olah spans far past the purple-stained hardwood of Welsh-Ryan Arena. The two roommates eat, study, do homework and play ball together. They share stories of their homes and their tastes in music. Plans to live together in an off-campus apartment next year are already being discussed.
Just don’t call it a bromance.
“We are best friends, that’s it,” Olah says.
Still, it is tempting, especially when two seemingly opposite characters are brought together. Abrahamson, a 6’7’’ forward from West Des Moines, Iowa is described as goofy, energetic, and crazy. The seven-foot Romanian center is stoic and reserved. Somehow though, the two have formed a relationship that glosses over these differences.
“It just comes from lots of shared similarities,” Abrahamson says. “Even though we grew up so far apart, we’re a lot alike.”
As the Wildcats look to finally earn that elusive bid to the NCAA Tournament, the chemistry formed in non-basketball interactions can be essential. For a team decimated by injuries and suspensions, the opportunity for Abrahamson and Olah to develop through increased playing time is invaluable.
Though they try to escape basketball whenever possible, anxious for a break after long practices, it inevitably is a part of their lives. They discuss things that have gone well and how each player can improve. Not surprisingly, they each agree their play has benefited from their off-court relationship.
“We are basically the same person. The way we think. Sometimes we just walk, we look at each other, and [we are] thinking about the same thing, ” Olah says. “We don’t have to say stuff to each other because we already know what we’re going to do, and it’s the same with basketball.”
Yet despite this newfound friendship, their pasts are extremely different.
Abrahamson averaged 18.4 points and 5.2 rebounds a game as a senior in high school and was named the Central Iowa Metro League Player of the Year. After considering Harvard and Stanford, among others, he arrived at Northwestern to John Shurna comparisons.
The center first saw his future roommate when he searched YouTube videos of Abrahamson after the Iowan committed to Northwestern. Now that Olah has met his roommate, he says he knows Abrahamson is an extremely dedicated person, one who sets a goal and does not stop working until he achieves it.
Still, Abrahamson readily admits that Olah’s journey to Northwestern was far more life-changing than his own.
“The experiences he’s had…It opens your eyes that there’s a lot more out there in the world,” Abrahamson says. “Some of the stuff he’s seen and done, I couldn’t even imagine.”
Olah, who led Romania at the 2011 FIBA U18 European Championships with 16.7 points and 14 rebounds a game, spent his senior year in the United States. There, he averaged 18.5 points, 13.1 rebounds and 4.6 blocks a game for Traders Point Christian Academy en route to winning an Indiana Christian Schools state championship.
Though Abrahamson and Olah have been unable to replicate these sort of numbers, averaging just 4.9 and 6.1 points per game respectively, the two downplay the pressure that accompanies starting as freshmen in the Big Ten.
“I’m a basketball player,” Olah says. “Age doesn’t matter. I played against older guys in Europe. It is a little bit of pressure, [but] it’s a big stage. It’s the Big Ten.”
But if people focus too much on statistics, expectations, or even basketball, they will miss the truly important part of this friendship. Yes, Abrahamson and Olah are at Northwestern to win games, but this should not comes across as a serious relationship based only on dignity and determination.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
“He makes weird noises when he sleeps,” Abrahamson says, “but I tend to ignore those.”
These are the revelations, not the ones about the future of this team, that are most telling of this relationship. Whether Olah is joking about Abrahamson’s hair or the Iowan is talking smack about the Romanian’s need to “get on [Abrahamson’s] level” on Twitter, the nature of their friendship is clear. Although both Olah and Abrahamson are hard-workers, they save plenty of time to relax and hang out.
“He’s kinda into techno, so he’s kinda gotten me into that,” Abrahamson says. “I’m into R&B, so I hooked him up with a little Usher.”
Yet while they share music, they apparently do not often share the responsibility of cleaning their room.
“We’re both pretty messy,” he says. “I hear [freshman] Sanjay [Lumpkin]’s a neat-freak, so I don’t think [rooming with him] would have worked well.”
As the two grow, both on personal and basketball levels, these are the little things they believe will bring them close. Even as freshman, they already recognize the importance of the bond they share, and say they look forward to helping the coming classes to foster the same sort of relationships.
While the pressure will continue to mount as the season and years pass, and the demanding schedule of “class, practice, then crash” will surely take it’s toll on both Abrahamson and Olah, the two friends say they are grateful for the opportunity.
So if at some point this year Olah hits a cutting Abrahamson for a back-door lay up, do not be surprised if many do not recognize its true significance. These people will just see digits light up on the scoreboard. And, as they turn their attention toward the next play, they will miss something worth much than two points.