Look up… look way up!
Okay B.C. basketball fans, do you see that name right at the very tip-top of the list of the leading rebounders this season for all of NCAA Div. 1 men’s basketball?
In case you were wondering just where the winding basketball roads had taken Fardaws Aimaq ever since the 6-foot-11 centre took those first few giant steps off the grounds of Richmond’s Steveston-London Secondary back in 2017, now you know.
He’s at the top of the charts.
Through the first seven games of his career at Utah Valley University, a developing program in the Western Athletic Conference, the redshirt sophomore was not only averaging 15.9 points per game for the Wolverines, but an eye-popping 15.3 rebounds per game, the latter stat a full 2.5 caroms better than the next closest player.
“My whole mentality before this season was ‘What can I do coming into this year that will set me apart from everybody?” Aimaq told VarsityLetters.ca by phone following a practice Tuesday, just ahead of this season’s conference-opening weekend set (5 p.m. tips Friday and Saturday) against the visiting Cal Baptist Lancers, led by its own B.C. star in guard Ty Rowell.
“I’ve been a good rebounder and it’s just something I’ve set my mindset towards,” continued Aimaq, who spent last season getting accustomed to his new digs in Orem, UT, as a redshirt transfer following a freshman season in 2018-19 at Mercer University in Macon, GA.
“It’s been a crazy year with COVID, but the chance to play and get on the court has been special, so whatever I need to do to help my team win is what I am going to do,” added Aimaq.
The Wolverines have taken their share of lumps through a 2-5 preseason, yet it has been impossible to miss the identity they have begun to forge with Aimaq in the middle, perhaps best exemplified by the team’s 93-87 home court loss to Wyoming last month in which he set career bests with 27 points and a new school record 20 rebounds, half of which came on the offensive glass.
“I know it’s not a true triple-double, but I always like to joke that he can get that rare triple-double where it’s like 10 (offensive rebounds), 10 (defensive rebounds) and say 40 points,” says Mike Stoneburgh, the Steveston-London head coach who guided Aimaq through his Grade 10-12 seasons, including a 2015-16 campaign in which the Sharks lost to Surrey’s Southridge Storm in that season’s B.C. Triple-A championship final.
“Fardaws’ rebounding instincts are just crazy,” continued Stoneburgh. “He’s always had that, and he’s always had these soft hands where he can tip the ball to himself and then grab it. I can still see it all back in the day, but now…it’s just way more refined. He has that ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for the basketball. When the ball goes up, he just wants it.”
A TRAVELLING MAN
From Richmond to prep school in 2017-18 on the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. at Maine’s Bridgton Prep, to a rookie NCAA season in 2018-19 down south in Georgia at Div. 1 Mercer, Fardaws Aimaq has chased his dream with both passionate abandon and calculated precision.
He was solid as a rookie, where despite limited playing time (14.9 mpg) he still averaged five points and a team-leading 5.3 rebounds per game with the Bears.
Yet it wasn’t until a coaching change took place at Mercer in March of 2019 that Aimaq got the full flavour of his worth on the open market.
After entering the transfer portal in search of a new school, he discovered just how much his stock had risen after two seasons in the U.S. hoops delivery system.
“I had schools in the Pac 12 interested, I had schools in the Mountain West interested, and some others as well,” Aimaq remembers. “It’s not that I wasn’t interested in Utah Valley, but it wasn’t a place that had had an established winning record.”
Yet it didn’t take him very long to realize that while the program had not yet compiled a deep volume of NCAA success since its transition from a junior college at the turn of this century, it was bringing in a new head coach in former Los Angeles Lakers forward Mark Madsen, with whom Aimaq felt immediate simpatico.
“When I took the visit, instantly it became the place I wanted to be just with the knowledge that Mark Madsen has for the game of basketball, and more specifically the knowledge he has for my position and playing it at the highest level possible,” reflects Aimaq.
In fact in hindsight, Aimaq’s 2019-20 redshirt campaign at Utah Valley came at the perfect time for his game. His development and confidence both spiked as he locked in during practices under Madsen and his new teammates, all of whom could see the added dimension that would soon be a part of their shared identity. Heading into the weekend, Aimaq is one of a quartet of Wolverines averaging double-figures in scoring, one which also includes Jamison Overton, Trey Woodbury and Evan Cole.
Upon announcing his signing, Madsen called Aimaq “… a physically imposing player who can score on the block as well as the perimeter.
“When I watched him play, the first thing that stood out was his timing and his ability to rebound outside of his area,” continued Madsen to the (Salt Lake City) Deseret News. “Daws has soft hands and finishes well inside, and he is a student-athlete of great maturity.”
All of that, of course, has come to the fore over the first seven games of this season as Aimaq has reached or broken the 20-point mark three times, and grabbed 18 or more rebounds four times.
Stoneburgh had a front row seat to Aimaq’s scoring feats during his three-season run (2014-17) at Steveston-London, including the school’s run to the 2016 title game at the Langley Events Centre in which he scored 40 points, grabbed 32 rebounds and blocked six shots in that 78-71 B.C. finals loss to Southridge.
Fardaws Aimaq was a force of nature during the 2016 B.C. senior boys AAA basketball championships. Exclusive video courtesy Tyler Dinwoodie, Langley Events Centre. Music by Anabolic Beatz.
Four seasons after that title run, Stoneburgh — an avid watcher of Aimaq’s college games via computer stream — is relishing the opportunity to celebrate just how much Aimaq has grown his game, lifting it to a level which has allowed him to dominate at the major college level in much the same ways he dominated at the high school level in B.C.
“He is just way more refined,” begins Stoneburgh, who says the biggest thing he sees is the way Aimaq has learned to use more of his overall athleticism. “He always had athleticism, but in high school, when you’re being guarded by a six-foot kid, you don’t need to show it a lot. But now he realizes that he has to show his athleticism every moment. He never stops. He’s go, go, go.”
Of course with his size, Aimaq has never been able to hide on the basketball court.
Yet even he was surprised at how quickly the opposition had scribbled UVU’s No. 11 at the top of their pre-game scouting reports.
That’s what happens when in your first game with your new school — a 100-75 win over Div. 2 Adams State on Nov. 26 — you shoot 11-of-18 from the floor and finish with 24 points and 18 rebounds.
It wasn’t too long before, just like in high school, Aimaq began to see double- and triple-team attention.
“I definitely see it as a sign of respect that teams game-plan around me,” he says. “I hear the coaches of the opposing team on the sidelines, how they have my game broken down and how they are trying to figure out what to do next. At first, it caught me off guard. I didn’t expect it. I wasn’t ready for it. But I refreshed myself. That they have your game broken down to the smallest bits and pieces on offence and defence… that is respect, and with that you start to play with even more confidence.”
There is also the reality that thriving in the painted areas does not come without a willingness to pay the price.
“The biggest thing I try to be is physical,” Aimaq says. “Once you hit people first and hit them hard, they tend not to want to go back in and bang. It takes its toll getting hit by someone all night who is 6-11, 260.”
READY TO SCALE A NEW LEARNING CURVE
When you consider Fardaws Aimaq’s post-high school time-line as it pertains to his prep school/collegiate experience, he’s really just past the halfway point.
And so just how much more refined will he be by the time, say, the 2023 NBA draft rolls around?
And just how much more agile and powerful will a frame currently performing at 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds be by that time?
This early-season climb to the top of the the Div. 1 rebounding charts is Aimaq’s first big reveal, and it has reinforced within himself the process he knows he must stick to in order to achieve his ultimate goal.
“Sitting out a year redshirting last season, and now in my second year of college basketball, I basically still have three years to go,” Aimaq says. “It’s exciting to know that this is the start of something that I am building towards, and eventually going for that NBA goal.”
And as it pertains to preparing for the potential opportunity to play in the greatest basketball league in the world, Aimaq feels blessed to have Madsen as his head coach.
“The biggest thing for me is the fact that he is just such an approachable guy,” Aimaq begins of Madsen, who won two NBA titles and played nine seasons in the league before later serving as a Lakers’ assistant coach under both former Vancouver Grizzlies guard Byron Scott, and later Luke Walton.
“On my (recruiting) visit, we did a little 30-minute workout and he was explaining to me little things about my position that I had never heard before,” Aimaq continues. “He told me ‘When you catch the ball in the post against a seven-footer, you dribble like this,’ and ‘If he is say, 6-8 and stocky, you dribble like this.’ It was eye-opening stuff, and I can remember thinking to myself ‘This is the kind of stuff that could completely change my game.’”
Those first impressions have done nothing but intensify for Aimaq, who while since high school has modelled some of his interior moves after Shaquille O’Neal, now has the added bonus of going straight to a first-hand source each day in Madsen, who played alongside The Big Aristotle.
“There will be times in practice where (Madsen) will try to test my patience,” admits Aimaq. “He has his coaching strategies he’ll throw at me, and depending on how I react, he’ll say things like ‘Guys, we’d go at Shaq like that all the time, and he’d keep his composure and he’d be cool.’
“And he has a lot of other stories, too, like about Kobe Bryant, who he also played with,” Aimaq continues. “It’s been big for myself and for the other guys on the team. We all learn stuff from an NBA player who also coached (in the NBA). Mark has been a great guy to have at my side and help me through my college career, and hopefully the pros, once I get there. At the end of the day my goal is to play in the NBA. He has played there and he knows what it takes to get there.”
Yet before that opportunity presents itself, Aimaq will both continue to improve his game and continue to inspire a growing legion of high schoolers back in his home province as he hopes to follow in the NBA footsteps of recent tall-timbered contemporaries like Robert Sacre and Kelly Olynyk.
“He’s a huge inspiration,” says Stoneburgh of Aimaq, who last stopped by his old school in the pre-pandemic days of December 2019. “The kids (at Steveston-London) love him here. When he walks the halls, it’s like some Hollywood celebrity. The kids stop what they’re doing and they run at him.”
And when they get to him, they can look up, look way up… at the top rebounder in NCAA Div. 1 men’s basketball.
For Fardaws Aimaq, however, the journey is just beginning.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience,” he says. “A lot of learning curves, and there will be a lot more. But I am preparing for everything that comes my way.”
CREDITS AND MORE:
Thanks to Tyler Dinwoodie at the Langley Events Centre for our custom Fardaws Aimaq high school hoops video, complete with music by Anabolic Beatz.
Thanks as well to Utah Valley assistant athletic director Jason Erickson for all of his assistance.
Utah Valley meets Cal Baptist to open the 2020-21 WAC men’s basketball conference schedule beginning Friday. Click here to read Varsity Letters’ profile of ex-Langley-Walnut Grove star guard Ty Rowell, now starring for the Lancers.
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