Every journey has its set of twists and turns, highs and lows, luck and fate. While some can be similar, no two are ever exactly the same. It’s how it can take someone from a love of MMA to basketball, playing in front of ten fans to ten thousand, or from a red shirt to leading the nation in rebounding. Fardaws Aimaq’s journey is uniquely his own - with his father’s guidance, belief in himself, and a beast of a work ethic, it’s how he can be such a ferocious force on the court while staying hungry and humble off it.
17 games into the 20-21 season, Fardaws is averaging 14.4 points on 52% shooting, nearly 2 blocks and leading the NCAA with 15.5 rebounds per game. Fardaws has had to earn everything he’s gotten and he didn’t have to look far for inspiration. His parents both came to Canada in the 90’s, where they met and got married in Toronto before moving to Vancouver in 1997. He vividly recalls both his parents working full time jobs and at times, multiple ones, coming home to sleep for a couple hours and back at it - all to provide a better life for their children.
‘Never be satisfied’, his dad would always tell him, reminding Fardaws that there is always somebody out there working for it harder than you and that ‘complacency is a black hole’. He harnessed that energy into his love for MMA at first where he became a black belt. Then the focus turned to basketball, he would play with his dad at the YMCA casually, then grew an appreciation of the game and the team aspect that MMA couldn’t provide. He started to take it seriously when he was 12 and went into grade 8 already standing at 6’1.
B.C. High School
Fardaws was a stand out superstar in high school - attending Steveston-London Secondary School in Richmond, BC. A chance case of timing gave him his first break and he never looked back. He was in 8th grade when a number of seniors had to take an exam, so they picked up Fardaws for the game which was the first time he met head coach Mike Stoneburgh. Coach Stoney as they call him, stayed with him throughout his time at Steveston-London, proving to be a ‘big part of my journey and who helped me out a ton’.
His senior year, the scouts started to come out and most importantly at the 2016 3A Championship Game against the Southridge Storm. He can remember everything about that night, walking down the tunnel, the nerves and the anticipation for the matchup everyone wanted being ranked 1 and 2 respectively all year. They unfortunately fell short of the victory, but not without a valiant 40 point and 32 rebound effort from Aimaq.
Move to U.S. - Bridgton Academy in Maine
He then turned his sights to basketball down south, he wanted more. He wanted to build towards a collegiate career and was inspired by memories of watching the likes of Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse when he was a kid. With guidance from his trusted circle, they all advised that in order to get the offers he wanted, he had to go against the best. Most schools he met saw the stats, but they wanted the film to match, they were unsure if he really had it or maybe it was just the competition he was against. While schools were evaluating him, he was doing the same on his end, asking himself if he could go to one opportunity where there’s three other 7-footers, what conference do they play in etc. He ultimately decided to go to Bridgton Academy in Maine, where he felt he could ‘do some damage.’
There were doubts for sure, it’s rare for a BC kid to go to prep school and succeed. The day of his flight, he almost didn’t go, but like with everything in life, it was his family that kept him going. It was his first time leaving home and needed a push from his dad to keep moving forward. His dad came down with him to make the transition as seamless as possible and get situated.
On the go
‘There were 2 big differences playing in America for me - first, the crowds. Every game was packed and such high energy. Outside of the HS Championship game, I had never experienced playing in that environment. Two, playing against other guys my size and so skilled, it fueled me to get better.’
Fardaws knew he had to prove himself over and over again, nobody knew his name and it was his mentality to start from the ground up. Once at Bridgton, the interest started to come in from D1 schools. ‘I never thought I would have the opportunities that were in front of me, I still have texts from people back home that said I wouldn’t get any offers and to not bother trying.’
He initially chose and committed to Mercer University where he had a great connection with certain assistant coaches and personnel from the school. At Mercer is where he realized there’s a business side to things now too. The summer heading into his first year, the coaches he built a foundation with were let go and the whole leadership team was flipped upside down. From that point he knew the vibe was different, he wasn’t getting the opportunity or support he felt he was signing up for.
Home away from home
After his freshman year, Fardaws took another leap and put his name in the transfer portal. Among the offers he had, he shortlisted it down to five, with Utah Valley University included. ‘I had two ofher schools primarily at the top of that list, but UVU was the first school i visited… and the last’.
For Aimaq, it was head coach Mark Madsen that sold him. In his first 30 minute workout, Coach Madsen was teaching him things that he had never heard before - ‘If you’re going against a lanky 7-footer, you need to do this’ or ‘if against a shorter, stalkier player … do this.’
Coach Madsen has a wealth of wisdom after his 9 year NBA career playing alongside the likes of Kevin Garnett and winning championships in Los Angeles with Shaquille O’Neal and the late great Kobe Bryant. ‘It’s wild that coach can rattle off stories of those years or how special Kobe really was. His work ethic, working out twice for 4 hrs combined before practice even starts and still destroying everyone when they got going.’
The more they talked, the more the connection grew. He also outlined the path to take, red-shirt for one year then ‘if you want to go where you want to go, we will do everything we can to support you in having a stellar Junior year to set you up for success.’ Time to work. In the coming months, Aimaq would change the way he eats, was on a strict workout plan and tirelessly worked on his game. Nights like against Dixie State where he snatched a school record 25 rebounds with 18 points, 3 assists, a block and a steal are no fluke. That’s the product of hours of work. The stats speak for themself this season, but let’s be clear - this was no overnight success.
When asked what he would tell his younger self, ‘I would tell him to believe in himself. You’ll win, lose, go through a pandemic… whatever, stay consistent with your work and keep going. Also that if you truly love this game, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It will open up doors for you, make you realize that your dreams aren’t that far away and the game will always give back what you give to it.’
Fardaws stays close to his family back home, who still work their full time jobs. They check in, making sure he’s ok and if he has enough to eat. He assures them that everything is good and that their support is all he needs. ‘All of this is still new and exciting to me, it’s crazy to have fans reach out, I always make sure to hit them back and stay focused on my goals and plans.’
Fardaws is in the heart of the season but knows there’s still room for growth. ‘This coming off-season I want to continue to work on my outside game - the trail three and one dribble pull-up which will open up space for my teammates and keep at it with my body.’ He loves watching prime Demarcous Cousins and Mark Gasol, Cousins for his physicality and sneaky athleticism and Gasol for his all around game and passing vision.
‘Never be satisfied’
My bet is that Fardaws Aimaq will only get better and it’s everyone else who should be worried that he’s working harder than them.