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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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‘My heart makes up for my height’: Rana Elhusseini’s leadership on and off the court

Get to know the passionate motor behind the UB women’s basketball team

<p>Rana Elhusseini has emerged as a key player for UB this season.</p>

Rana Elhusseini has emerged as a key player for UB this season.

The words, “I’ve seen you locked up at the D-II level,” rattle through Rana Elhusseini’s brain before every game.

The senior guard heard those words when she entered the transfer portal last year. At the time, Elhusseini played at PennWest Edinboro, one of only two teams interested in her talents. She averaged 12.5 points and was honored as All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West first team, but despite her success at the Division II level, her lack of height drew questions. 

Today, standing at 5’3, she is the shortest player in UB women’s basketball history to record a triple-double.

“I want to be challenged,” Elhusseini said. “I always say Arabs, we’re not very athletic. Our athletic genes just don’t like that. So I asked myself, ‘What do I have to do to make it?’ And it was work.” 

Elhusseini was born in Dearborn, Michigan to parents originally from Lebanon. Dearborn, known for its dense immigrant population, hosts the largest Muslim population per capita in America and the largest mosque in all of North America. 

“Dearborn is such a tight knit community,” Elhusseini said. “You’re able to go to different grocery stores, and it just really feels like a little Middle East over there. It’s a very comfortable place for people who are immigrants and who are not familiar with the culture around here.”  

Leaving her hometown wasn’t easy for Elhusseini. Back in her Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) days, traveling to different cities presented difficulties. She had dietary restrictions and needed special living accommodations, neither of which were always available. This was one of the main reasons she chose to attend Edinboro for her undergraduate days, and a big reason why she attends Buffalo today. 

“When we go on away trips, Allese [Williams, director of basketball operations,] will usually talk to me, and we’ll look up different places around the area that have Halal. They definitely work a lot. I feel like they genuinely care about me and where I come from. I think that’s one of the best things that’s happened to me here.”

According to the Buffalo News, only 1.8% of Buffalonians are Muslim. In contrast, Dearborn is roughly 50% Muslim.

Despite this, Elhusseini felt at home on UB’s campus. 

“When I came here, I just realized how diverse it was,” Elhusseini said. “Walking around and seeing different people wearing a hijab and just seeing people look like me, it felt familiar. I felt comfortable. As soon as I came here, I knew this is the place I wanted to be.” 

Elhusseini has high hopes for her career. Growing up, her dream was to become the NCAA’s first ever Division I Muslim women’s basketball head coach. 

“I know it’s going to be a journey,” she said. “But, I know one day, that’s where I want to end up.”

Today, it’s safe to say that Elhusseini is leaving her mark here at UB. Her presence on the court assisted Buffalo into a fourth place standing in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) during the regular season. She is only the third-ever UB women’s basketball player to achieve a triple-double, the other two being Dyaisha Fair (5’5) in 2020 and Sonia Ortega (5'10) in 2001. In addition, Elhusseini was just one rebound shy against Central Michigan in achieving her second triple-double of the season. Elhusseini is just one of 27 women this year to reach such numbers. Of those women, only one other is 5’3 or shorter. 

Elhusseini’s voice can be heard on and off the court, as she has been an advocate for change for her entire time at UB. Earlier in the year, she started a food drive on campus in support of Palestinian’s during Israel’s military offensive in Gaza. She started the “Horns up against Hunger campaign” with UB Athletics, which collected over 1,000 canned goods for Feedmore WNY. The Price Rite Marketplace in Amherst matched the donation, bringing the total of donated goods to over 3,000 pounds. 

Elhusseini continues to post content about troubling events occurring in the Middle East, which she says she uses to fuel her passion on the court. 

“Every game I just put my head down and say a prayer. It kind of keeps me grounded,” Elhusseini said. “Even if we lose, it’s not the end of the world. I feel like that’s the most important thing. With everything that’s happening in Palestine, I feel like it’s just eye opening. To see a world like that, and then the one I’m living in. My biggest worry is putting an orange ball in a hoop? Compared to what? How much food am I going to have? Or is there a bomb that’s going to be dropped on me?”

As the MAC Championship Tournament rolls around this week, Rana finds herself with a unique challenge. Not only will she face the stress of playing on the court, but she’ll need to balance this with her faith. Elhusseini will be observing Ramadan, a Muslim holiday where worshipers will abstain from both food and water from dusk till dawn. 

Aware of the rigors ahead, the Dearborn native stays strong to her roots. Elhusseini has never shied away from the big moments. Even in high school, she dropped 32 points against her rival school in order to become Fordson High School’s all-time leading scorer. 

But Elhusseini says she thinks her best moments are still ahead. 

“Just seeing our potential, I know that my greatest memories are yet to come,” she said. “I hope that after we win that ring, that will be a very special feeling. Our locker room chemistry is so strong, and I don’t think anyone knows how special we are.” 

Buffalo will face Bowling Green in the MAC Championship quarterfinal on Wednesday. Coverage can be found on ESPN+. 

Evan Hilbert is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at evan.hilbert@ubspectrum.com


EVAN HILBERT
evan-hilbert.jpg

Evan Hilbert is an assistant sports editor at The Spectrum. He also is a three-season student-athlete with UB’s DI cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track team. He’s a fan of the Milwaukee Bucks, Newcastle United F.C., and the Buffalo Bills. 

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