Fardaws Aimaq is coming back to college, and he’s smiling wide because he’s doing so with a whole lot of NBA knowledge.
The 6-foot-11 Richmond native and reigning NCAA Div. 1 rebounding champion this past season at Utah Valley University had announced back in early April that he would be testing the NBA’s demanding pre-draft waters ahead of its actual July 29th selection meeting.
After a gruelling three-plus months of training and working out for teams, however, the 2017 Steveston-London grad — mentioned as a potential second-round pick — decided to opt out, announcing on Wednesday’s deadline that he would return to UVU for his 2021-22 junior season, banking some invaluable experience and potentially making himself into the kind of material worthy of first-round selection a year from now.
“The biggest thing for me was to get the feedback of where teams saw me in this year’s draft,” Aimaq told Varsity Letters on Wednesday from his base in Orem, UT, just moments after announcing his decision to return to Utah Valley, where along the way to being selected Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year this past season, posted the single-highest Div. 1 rebounding total in over 40 seasons, at 15.0 caroms per game (along with 13.9 points per game).
“After a couple of workouts and a big Pro Day, I started to really turn some heads and some teams were very high on me,” continued Aimaq. “Just hearing that feedback and how there were a couple of teams that wanted me to stay in… it was a crazy process. I was looking to go in the second-round or as an undrafted player, but coming back for my junior year, I can be much more developed and there’s a chance I could go in the first round.”
Unfolding as a second, but equally important part, of Aimaq’s pre-draft preparation process was the way in which he committed completely to a new plant-based diet.
As he trained to impress the NBA talent evaluators, Aimaq did so while re-inventing his physique, dropping 25 pounds (from 265 to 250) and lowering his overall body fat count from 18 per cent to just 7.5 per cent.
When Aimaq showed up with about 70 other prospects at the NBA’s draft combine (June 21-27) in Chicago, he was able to make the kind of positive impressions he knew he was capable of.
“I had a really, really good pro day in front of over 100 executives and general managers, and then I spoke to a couple of teams right after that,” Aimaq began. “Just to hear that positive feedback… 90 per cent was really good positive feedback, and the other 10 per cent was stuff they want to see me work on.
“The biggest thing for me, though, was the body stuff,” he continued.
“I am getting up-and-down the court at a rate I have never been able to do, and another thing is just getting off the ground. My vertical is up a ton. My explosiveness is up a ton. I think with me going through that process, I am in much better condition than I was a couple of months ago and the sky is the limit… again. I am just thankful to be in this position.”
That new physique is sure to wreak havoc on the rest of the WAC this coming season.
Besides his blue-chip bread-and-butter ability to rebound the basketball with more proficiency than anyone in the college game, his increased nimbleness is sure to pay off in myriad ways.
In fact, as he lived the life of an NBA prospect-in-waiting this summer, Aimaq was sure to listen to everything he was being told by the league’s talent evaluators.
The one thing he might have heard the most?
“The biggest one for me was them really, really loving my ability to play-make from the top of the key and from different spots on the court,” said Aimaq, as his skill-set continues to venture confidently away from the basket each and every day.
“The NBA’s big on having their five-man be able to initiate the offence, whether it’s into a dribble-handoff or whether the guard cuts back-door and are you able to make that back-door pass,” he continued. “Stuff like that. A lot of teams were very impressed that I was able to do that. It’s one thing that really translates to the next level and was a common feedback thing that I was getting.”
Aimaq’s former high school head coach has not seen him in-person in a number of months, yet SLSS hoops boss Mike Stoneburgh had already begun to see the transformation in Aimaq’s body before he left for UVU and the start of the 2020-21 WAC season.
In keeping with Aimaq’s NBA theme, he’s done his best to meet the demand for the current era’s more versatile and agile bigs.
“It’s tough to be a Shaq big in the NBA now with the style of game,” Stoneburgh said Wednesday, harkening back to 300 pounds Shaquille O’Neal carried on his 7-foot-1 frame after Orlando made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 draft.
“With (Aimaq) losing all this weight, and now gaining his quickness and everything else, maybe he’s now able to get out and guard a guard on a screen-and-roll,” Stoneburgh added. “That’s the one thing he said he wanted to do, to trim down his body, and get it pro ready. He did it. Now he’s looking at a year of college ball with a pro-ready body, and then he will take the next step.”
At this time a year ago, the NCAA men’s basketball world, let alone the NBA, was not even mentioning Fardaws Aimaq’s name.
Now, after an historic rebounding season at Utah Valley, and an eye-opening off-season spent impressing those minding the next level, they sky does indeed seem to be his limit.
“It’s one thing (to hear it from others), but to hear (NBA) GM’s… the guys that run the best basketball league in the world, say to your face that you’re really good? It’s obviously a surreal feeling. It’s all kind of crazy.. You just have to keep working.”
(Varsity Letters came out of the slumber of summer sabbatical to provide this story. We will return full force in early August)
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