When the phone rang, she knew it was something odd, something different, something ominous. Who calls at 2 a.m. with good news?
But she answered it anyway. The voice on the other end of the phone from another continent told her to get her mother.
Rhamat Alhassan was 13 years old and about to grow up in a hurry the way no kid ever wants to mature.
It would be three days later before her mother gave her the news. She had a feeling. So many people coming to the house, speaking in whispers.
Her father, who had returned to his native Ghana on business, had passed away. A stomach ulcer. To this day she feels if he was back in the United States he’d still be with her, proudly beaming in the stands as she dominated the net.
But he’s gone.
“I’d love my dad to be able to see me doing this,” she said.
Alhassan has become one of college volleyball’s best players, an All-American and three-time All-SEC honoree. She’ll be in the mix, says UF coach Mary Wise, for national player of the year in this, her senior year.
Her journey has been an improbable one punctuated by the pain of losing her dad at such a young age.
That forced her to take on a role that didn’t allow for lengthy grieving. Her mom became the breadwinner and Alhassan became the mom. She paid the bills, looked out for her sister Musha and took care of the little things around the house in suburban Washington, D.C.
Oh, and she switched sports.
The 6-foot-4 Alhassan was a basketball player until a friend talked her into volleyball. Word spread quickly that there was a young girl with a wingspan to die for who had the potential to be something special.
When Wise asked an assistant who was out scouting about Alhassan she was told in no uncertain terms, “She’s awful. But she’s going to be great.”
“Great” didn’t come right away.
“I was horrible,” Alhassan said. “Horrible doesn’t describe how bad I was.
After the first year of club (volleyball), I knew I could do more.
“I like to be good at things.”
But this wasn’t a young lady with the luxury of having parents driving her from match to match or making sure she had orange slices. She took public transportation to get where she had to go for practices.
Still, she blossomed. The big volleyball programs were all over her. Wise won the battle.
What she got was more than a budding star.
“When that talented a player is the team role model, that’s a coach’s dream,” Wise said.
Her teammates call Alhassan “grandma”. Last year on the team bus, she was teaching the freshmen how to knit. The experiences she dealt with as a young girl coping with having a single parent have put Alhassan in a different place.
“She’s an old soul,” Wise said.
Not that she asked to be.
“I had to learn how to do everything myself,” Alhassan said, “I was always very independent.
“I think about small things. ‘Oh, I’m doing this. I would have done this with my dad. Like WWE (wrestling). We used to watch it all the time. Just memories like that.”
Each year has brought a different level of improvement on the volleyball court. Because she started the sport so late in life (10th grade), there were no bad habits to overcome.
“She’s a great learner and she’s so driven,” Wise said.
On Friday night, she will play in the first match of her final season at Florida. The Gators finally get into the new arena after a year of playing games in the Lemerand Center and nobody is looking forward to it more than the athlete in the middle with her long arms, high volleyball IQ and infectious personality.
“I can’t believe this is my last preseason ever,” Alhassan said. “I feel like I just got here as a freshman. I didn’t see this coming.”
Who could have? Who could see this road?
Who could see her becoming one of the game’s top players? Who could see her guiding her sister through the recruiting process last year (Musha is now on the Hartford basketball team)?
Who could have expected such greatness?
Perhaps, well, her father did.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.