RICHMOND — Fardaws Aimaq never lost sight of the big picture of U.S. college basketball and his potential future within it even though there were moments this past season where he might have wondered what a kid from Richmond was doing chasing his hoop dreams on the other side of the continent at a place called Bridgton Prep in Eastern seaboard town of Portland, Maine.
“I started out the year where I would hear whispers like ‘Who is this Canadian kid? and ‘He’s not very good.’ But once we got into the season, I started to get a lot of respect, even from opposing coaches,” recalled Aimaq, who on Monday officially parlayed that journey into an NCAA Div. 1 scholarship beginning next season in Georgia with the Mercer University Bears.
“Those coaches would pull me aside after games and say ‘How come we never heard of you?’” added the near-7-foot Aimaq, who over a glorious high school career at Steveston-London Secondary helped the Sharks to back-to-back B.C. AAA tournament appearances, including a second-place finish in his Grade 11 (2015-16) campaign, one which he which he capped by scoring 40 points, grabbing 34 rebounds and adding six blocks in a championship final loss to Surrey’s Southridge Storm.
In a U.S. prep league as highly regarded and as highly scouted as the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC), the arrival and subsequent emergence of an off-the-radar kid boasting a multi-skilled, next-level-ready 6-foot-11, 260-pound frame was sure to open eyes.
And once Aimaq got comfortable, boy did he ever.
By the time the season was over, Aimaq might have finally shed his rookie status when it came to doing his laundry and vacuuming his dorm room, but on the court, he was the master of his domain, averaging 21 points and 14 rebounds per game against a sea of future D1 competition.
Make that happen for yourself, and you are sure to make the best schools stand up and take notice.
A (BIG) MAN WITH A PLAN
Ask Aimaq about the attention he received and he will admit it was substantial.
Of course not every single expression of interest could be labelled as serious as a fullride scholarship opportunity offer, but to put it simply, Aimaq had more than his share of suitors.
“The biggest thing for me was just trying to find my perfect fit, to meet my end goal which was to get my best opportunity to play,” he said. “In the end I got maybe like 40 Div. 1 schools interested. There were a bunch in the Pac 12, Big East, some in the ACC.”
Throughout the process, he visited Mercer, Radford and Portland State. And new schools like Pepperdine, Boston College, San Francisco, William and Mary, and Butler kept popping up right through the 11th hour.
Watch tape of Aimaq with Bridgton Prep this season, and you see some pretty amazing things, like the nimble and efficient nature in which he could now cover ground on the court, and the way he could handle the ball on the perimetre and knock down triples.
At his size, it’s no wonder a bevy of blue-chip heavyweights expressed interest.
Yet what best defines the Aimaq story is the strength of the personal game plan he armed himself with as he waded out into the recruiting wars.
“I wasn’t level chasing,” said Aimaq firmly. “This for me wasn’t about trying to play at the biggest school I could get, something where I could just say to people ‘I played at Duke.’
“My decision was going to be based on three things,” he continued. “The player-coach relationship, the player-player relationship, and the opportunity to play right away. I know I am ready to play right away, but maybe not at a high major (where the vast majority are not) in the Big East or ACC. (Mercer) I feel gives me a chance to showcase my talent and possibly compete for starting minutes which is huge for a freshman to do.”
SCULPTING HIS BEST SELF
Spending a year on his own upon completion of his high school career in B.C. has done wonders for Aimaq in the physical, emotional and mental realms.
SLSS head coach Mike Stoneburgh says he couldn’t help but notice all of that as he both studied Aimaq’s play via livestreams through his prep season, and then saw first-hand his increased level of maturity upon his return to the Steveston-London Shark Tank.
“He had to fend for himself and learn how to take care of himself on a daily basis and it changed him,” says Stoneburgh of Aimaq who becomes the first senior boys basketball player in the shared history of both Steveston and London secondary schools to earn a D1 basketball scholarship. “Since he’s come back, every teacher he’s talked to has said ‘My God, he’s grown a lot.’ And he’s only been gone just over six months.”
The difference in physical play?
It too, has been somewhat astounding and speaks to what some determined time in the weight room and immersion within a higher-skilled group can do to one’s game.
“Since Grade 8, he’s been a kid who hung around the basket and got his lay-ups and rebounds,” says Stoneburgh. “Then he started to get his outside shot going, and for a guy that big, it’s huge. But the one thing I started to notice came when he was on the break. He’d be at the top of the three (point arc) and off a hop in two steps (he’s at the rim). He is so much more explosive. And when you can run the floor at 6-11 and 260, you are a nightmare to guard.”
And with all of that said, Aimaq feels his prep school year has helped prepare him for his collegiate career in ways that a season spent back home could never have approached.
“For me, the most important things were the things that no one sees,” chuckles Aimaq. “I learned how to vacuum my room and how to do my own laundry. I never did that stuff before. Just facing obstacles on my own has prepared me for next year with things that a lot of other freshmen might struggle with. I know I am ready.”
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