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OREM — Utah Valley University men's basketball got some good news Wednesday: Fardaws Aimaq, the nation's leading rebounder, is coming back.
After testing the NBA draft, the 6-foot-11, 240-pound center from Vancouver, British Columbia, announced in a live stream that he will return to the Wolverines, where he will be classified as a redshirt sophomore.
Aimaq has three seasons of college basketball experience, including last year when he poured in 13.9 points, 15.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game in leading the Wolverines to an 11-11 record and 9-4 mark in the Western Athletic Conference — tied for the best league record in the regular season and UVU's first conference co-championship since 2014.
"The biggest thing that brings me back is the chance to be a first-round pick next year," Aimaq told KSL.com after announcing his decision. "I had a great experience the last couple of months, going through the pre-draft process, talking to teams, interviewing with teams; it was nothing but great feedback. But the biggest thing was to get on their radars.
"I got on everybody's radar with a big pro day, and now everything is falling into place. The sky is the limit from here. I've just got to keep working every single day."
Now he wants to run it back — armed with a better knowledge of his game, a handful of workouts with NBA teams, and a slimmed down frame that dropped 20 pounds through offseason strength and conditioning workouts.
"The biggest thing I learned from the experience was understanding how to be a pro," said Aimaq, who had workouts with the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors, among others. "There's much more that goes into it than the basketball side; there's a lot of off-the-court stuff. Understanding that early on was pretty big for myself.
"What you eat, what you're watching, what you look at; all those things add up to how you play on the court. I didn't really understand that until I went through the process."
Fardaws Aimaq Draft Decision announcement https://t.co/K7qT5OCMrZ— Sean Paul (@Sean02MTM) July 7, 2021
Aimaq returns to Utah Valley as a fourth-year sophomore, the product of a freshman season coming off the bench at Mercer, redshirting for a year upon his transfer to UVU (during Mark Madsen's first season as head coach) and the COVID-19 impacted 2020-21 season that granted all athletes a free season of eligibility.
The first NCAA Division I player to average 15 or more rebounds per game in a single season since 1985, Aimaq was named WAC Player of the Year, first-team all-WAC and WAC defensive player of the year before rolling in honors from the NABC District 6 first team to a finalist for the Lou Henson mid-major player of the year award and Lefty Driesell defensive player of the year award. He also recently received the Joe Kearney Award, the award named in honor of the former WAC commissioner given to the league's top male and female student-athlete of the year.
The Wolverines will also be expected to build on their success of a year ago, a season cut crushingly short with an upset loss to No. 3 New Mexico State in the first round of the WAC Tournament. Grand Canyon went on to punch its first-ever ticket to the NCAA Tournament from the league.
Utah Valley will keep pushing, but now armed with the return of Aimaq, sharpshooter Trey Woodbury, and a bevy of transfers like BYU's Connor Harding to reunite with former Cougar teammates Blaze Nield and Colby Leifson.
"That was part of the decision," Aimaq said. "We have our core guys returning, and the staff did a really good job of bringing in some big-time JUCO and D-I transfers. I'm very, very excited to play with this group.
"To be honest, I think we're going to be a lot better than last year. We've got a lot more experience, and guys will be much more in tune with what is going on."
With Aimaq's withdrawal from the draft, only two players from Utah schools are currently in the draft as early entrants. Utah State's Neemias Queta recently wrapped up the NBA draft combine in Chicago with a breakout performance, and former BYU center Matt Haarms has declared for the draft and confirmed his intent to start his professional career.
Utah State's Justin Bean and Southern Utah's John Knight III also declared for the draft but both previously announced their intentions to return to school for another year.