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Nazr Mohammed fitting in well with hometown Bulls

Nazr Mohammed has been everything Bulls expected him be. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Nazr Mohammed has been everything the Bulls expected him to be. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 29, 2012 6:43AM

What does a 15th season in the NBA make you?

‘‘Smart,’’ Bulls backup center Nazr Mohammed said with a laugh.

Smart enough to keep the money coming in, smart enough to know what it takes to keep his body in shape and smart enough to say no.

It’s that last trait that will serve him well, especially now that he finally is back home.

Mohammed, 35, was a Chicago high school standout, capturing the national attention of recruiters at Kenwood Academy before heading off to Kentucky. After being selected in the first round of the 1998 draft and serving stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats and Oklahoma City Thunder, the Bulls are his eighth NBA team.

Mohammed said he thought he would return to his hometown back in 2006, when he was a free agent.

‘‘It just didn’t work out,’’ he said.

It did this offseason. And that’s when the word ‘‘no’’ became very important.

There are definite positives for an athlete to return to the city he grew up in.

‘‘It’s great to be in a city where there are so many familiar things around,’’ Mohammed said. ‘‘It puts you at ease and gives you a comfort level.’’

On the flip side, there are the phone calls from friends and family who want tickets, tugs from the past around every corner and strangers who claim they knew you when. The ability to say ‘‘no’’ is the great equalizer in those situations.

‘‘Don’t tell anybody about these preseason games,’’ Mohammed joked during training camp. ‘‘I don’t think they all know about the preseason games, so don’t say anything.’’

But starting on Hallo-
ween night, when the Bulls host the Sacramento Kings in their regular-season opener, Mohammed knows his ruse will be up.

‘‘I’m pretty sure there will be a lot [of ticket requests] that night, but if you don’t get to me by midnight the night before, don’t even call me,’’ he said.

Maybe that’s why it didn’t take long for Mohammed to fit in with his latest team. He has a tell-it-like-it-is mentality to go with a blue-collar court presence.

‘‘Naz is a great man, a very positive guy and someone that has a lot of experience in this league,’’ Bulls center Joakim Noah said. ‘‘He is playing at a very high level right now, so he’s definitely going to help us and help me.’’

All Mohammed can ask for at this point in his career is to come in and help his hometown team chase a title.

‘‘I love our team,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve got some great guys. Everybody kind of gets along, and everyone has a hard-hat mentality. Play hard, play hard on defense, and that’s a reflection of our coaches.

‘‘I just feel like I fit here. I have a little experience in being with new teams, so I feel comfortable. Whenever you get comfortable quickly, you’ve always got to give the credit to the guys on the team.’’

Coach Tom Thibodeau said he’ll be looking for one thing from Mohammed — for him to be himself.

‘‘Offensively, he’s a very good screener, tough on the offensive boards, catches the ball deep in the paint,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He’s done a very good job offensively. Defensively, his size at the rim has been a big factor for us. I’m very pleased with how he’s played, and I think he can play better. But he’s been everything we thought he would be.

‘‘I think veteran experience — good, positive, veteran experience — is important. And he’s played in a lot of big games, so that helps. And he comes prepared every day, gives you everything he has. He embodies all the characteristics that we’re looking for.’’

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