For Canadian big man Fardaws Aimaq, July 7th will be one of the most important days of his life. In just a few short days, Aimaq will have to decide whether or not he wishes to remain eligible for this year’s NBA draft, or instead go back to Utah for another collegiate season.
Aimaq’s stock shot up quickly this past season, as he transferred to the Utah Valley Wolverines (Orem, Utah) and led the entire NCAA with an astonishing 15.0 RPG, something that no one has done in college basketball since 1980. Aimaq is 6’11, mobile, has a versatile inside game and as the numbers suggest, can rebound the heck out of a basketball. His positioning and footwork are excellent, and the British Columbia product has put the basketball world on notice, garnering attention from NBA teams and impressing several GMs.
For Aimaq though, making it to the NBA wasn’t always his dream. In fact, as a kid, basketball wasn’t even his sport of choice. “I grew up doing MMA, I had a black belt.”, said Aimaq. “I was a swimmer as well.”
Despite these other passions and talents, Aimaq’s path eventually led him to basketball, and from there it turned into his main passion and focus.
“When I got into the 8th grade and started playing organized basketball, I was like this is what I want to do all the time, every single day.”, claimed Aimaq. “Eventually basketball just really took over.”
The words ‘took over’ perfectly describe Aimaq’s relationship to the game at the time, who became completely devoted to basketball and reaped the rewards of it fairly quickly. He led his local high school in Richmond, BC to a provincial title, before moving across the continent to Bridgton, Maine to join the Bridgton Academy for a final prep year of basketball before college.
The experience at Bridgton was a step up in competition and commitment for Aimaq, who said he loved every minute. “Bridgton Academy was great, I loved it.”, said Aimaq. “I had a goal going in on exactly what I was trying to do there; I knew it was strictly for basketball.”
From there, Aimaq committed to Mercer University for his freshman season of collegiate basketball, a school that he says was always near the top of his list.
“I’m a big college basketball fan, and so I knew that Mercer was a tournament team.”, said Aimaq. “They upset Duke in a first round, they’ve had some great squads, and so I thought that Mercer would be a place where I could grind and impress.”
Aimaq averaged 15 minutes-a-night at Mercer, averaging 5.0 PPG and 5.3 RPG in what was a disappointing season for the Bears. The team finished 11-20, and as a result got rid of a large bulk of their coaching staff, which was one of the main reasons why Aimaq committed in the first place.
“I thought we had the chance to build something special.”, said Aimaq. “On a personal level, the coaches really believed in me, and I wanted to play for a staff like that. From there though they obviously end up getting fired and that changed a lot.”
With the changes up and down the staff, Aimaq decided to transfer to Utah Valley of the WAC, where he felt he would be able to find a fresh start.
Due to the NCAA transfer rules, Aimaq was forced to sit out his sophomore season and focus on himself before being allowed back into the mix at Utah Valley for the 2020-2021 season. Although some might have gotten down about the situation, Aimaq used it as an opportunity to get better, and worked on himself and his game in every way possible so that he could come back to the court like a different player.
“The biggest thing I focused on was my body.”, claimed Aimaq. “Getting stronger, working with coach Mark Madsen every day; I just wanted to work on my all-around game. It was a long year for sure but I did what I was supposed to do during that time, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had. No one knew who I was until the following season started so I give a lot of credit to that year off for turning me into who I am today.”
People may have been sleeping on Aimaq heading into the year, but any late snoozers were quickly woken up by Aimaq’s loud stat lines. The Richmond, B.C. native turned the page in his first year at Utah Valley, starting in all 30 games and averaging an insane 13.9 PPG and 15.0 RPG. No one had averaged 15 rebounds since 1980 before Aimaq, and at times it looked easy for him. He was rewarded for his terrific play with several awards including the WAC Player of the Year, the WAC Defensive Player of the year as well as making the WAC 1st team.
Success in the WAC is nice, but usually it will take bigger accolades than that to reach a global audience, and that’s what it took for Aimaq. The Canadian big man quickly started turning heads nationally with the rebounding numbers, leading the entire NCAA on the glass and posting great stat lines such as 25 rebounds in a game against Dixie State. As a team, Aimaq helped Utah Valley to an 11-11 season that included a 9-4 record in the conference. The Wolverines made it to the conference tournament semi-finals before being eliminated, but by then, Aimaq had already been garnering widespread attention.
Considering it was only his first season with his new teammates, and he was coming off a year with no competitive basketball, the numbers he was able to put together were nothing short of spectacular, although a large part of his success Aimaq credits to his situation and the easy on-and-off the court transitions.
“The transition off-the-court was easy, I’m a very easy-going guy and I get along with everyone so that’s been great.”, said Aimaq. “On-the-court was awesome as well, I really have no complaints. The coaches have made everything easy for us and we have a really tight knit group of guys.”
After his defining collegiate season, Aimaq made the decision to test the waters of the 2021 NBA Draft back in April, and since then has had the busiest summer of his life. Running around from workouts to open gyms and pro days, many different groups have wanted to take a look at the young Canadian phenom.
The experience has been eye-opening for Aimaq, who says that the recognition feels a bit different once you get to see the next level.
“It’s nice when you hear a media person or a coach say how impressed they are with your game or give you compliments but when you hear it from an NBA GM it’s a different world.”, said Aimaq. “The feedback has been nothing but great, teams are very intrigued, and so it’s been a surreal feeling.”
Now moving forward, Aimaq will make his final decision on July 7th on if he will be remaining eligible for the draft, or if he will return back to school. Some consensus out there is that he could go in the second round or be a prized free agent signing if he goes undrafted. What’s for certain regardless of his decision is that he will continue to improve and remain dedicated no matter which path he takes.
“It’s been a grind man, it’s been a real grind.”, said Aimaq proudly. “Today I’m down about 28 pounds, down 10% body fat. I’m really dedicated to my body and my mind and just trying to get better. When I was a freshman and younger I didn’t realize the potential that I had, I wasn’t really thinking NBA or anything like that I just wanted to get some minutes. Once I realized that I could actually do this, that’s when things really started to take off.”
Take off it has, and the rocket will continue its upward trajectory in just a few short days when Aimaq releases his announcement to Canada and the rest of the basketball world.
The talent and belief are there, and now the only thing missing is a chance at the next level. With hard work comes opportunity, and with Fardaws Aimaq, there will never be a shortage of hard work.
NBA deadline to declare staying in the draft is July 7th, 2021
NBA Draft July 29th, 2021
Photo Courtesy Fardaws Aimaq