It is nearly impossible to see what someone has been through when they step on the court. The trials don’t necessarily reflect in the jumpshot, or the way that they attack the basket, but redshirt junior Austin Ajukwa has found a way to reflect his path in his play at the start of his 49er career.
Ajukwa is one of the pieces that Charlotte basketball was missing. The journey to where he is today wasn’t classical. His path to success wasn’t easy, however, nor does he believe that it is over.
With that being said, there’s more to Austin than basketball. His play is just a result of the values and principles that he applies to the rest of his life.
Family comes first with Ajukwa. He takes his three younger siblings’ future into account with every decision that he makes. The relationship between him and his mother has been strong since day one. He still checks in after every game to keep her updated.
If there was one character trait that Ajukwa places emphasis on, it is perseverance. He realizes that he wouldn’t be in the position that he is in today without enduring certain things. This is something that we wishes to pass on to his younger siblings.
“I take a lot of pride in being the oldest sibling. I want to show them that working hard and not giving up has gotten our family where it is. My mother went through hard times, my father went through hard times, and now I’m going through it, but I’m growing from it,” Ajukwa said.
Ajukwa was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina and he is a first-generation American. That reality created a lot of unique experiences for him growing up.
“I spent a lot of time in Nigeria when I was younger,” Ajukwa said. “I grew up differently than a lot of people, and that’s shaped me to where I am different from a lot of people.”
One thing that he has in common with some people is his love for the sport of basketball. He said that he remembers the day that he began his interest.
“Because my family is of Nigerian origin and soccer was the sport [of choice] down there, I played soccer a lot early on,” Ajukwa said.
He used to go out and practice his soccer game with his mother, and one day that all changed.
“I was watching basketball, and one day, when I was about 4 years old, I started dribbling the soccer ball like it was a basketball, and my mother began teaching me how to play. I fell in love with it right away,” Ajukwa said.
Ajukwa began playing organized basketball at the age of 6. He played point guard all the way up until high school. When he was a freshman at Cardinal Newman high school in Columbia, he was on varsity, but he only averaged about seven points.
After being disappointed with the results of his freshman season, he worked very hard on his game the following summer, and the improvement was evident. By his sophomore year, he was averaging nearly 20 points. At this point, his dream to play college basketball was slowly becoming a reality. By the time he was a senior, Ajukwa averaged over 20 points and nine rebounds, while leading his team to a state championship.
As a product of South Carolina, a goal of his was to play for the ACC. His college choices were narrowed down to the University of South Carolina and Clemson University. He chose Clemson University to fulfill his aspirations of playing in the ACC, even though USC was closer to home.
After attending Clemson for two years, he decided that it was time for a change of scenery.
“I left Clemson because I wanted to expand and reach my potential. I thought that leaving Clemson and finding a coach that played a high level of basketball like coach [Mark] Price would be good for me,” Ajukwa said.
He certainly won’t regret this decision. After averaging 2.7 points through 55 games at Clemson, he has come to Charlotte and taken a sizeable load in the offense. After 17 games, he’s averaging 12 points and five assists, including a career-high 30-point outing against Florida International in February.
Most would find the transition that he made difficult, but he explained his success in rather simple terms.
“I didn’t play in a college game for 650 days. It was tough, but the biggest thing was being coachable. I had to listen to what they were saying at all times, and believe in it. I took it day by day and brick by brick,” Ajukwa said.
Ajukwa takes that same attitude towards the other battles in his life. He also applies the values that he uses with his family to his athletic life.
“It’s a brotherhood. Everybody’s for each other. We’ve struggled a little bit this season, but we’re still together,” Ajukwa said.
That sentiment is certainly shown on the court. The chemistry to which he has been able to contribute to over the back half of the season is rather strong given the length of time it took for his debut.
Coaches and fans alike wish that he had shown up sooner.
Ajukwa will continue to incorporate his personality into his game, and hopefully get Charlotte basketball back on the right track before he graduates.
Ajukwa said, “If I had the opportunity to change anything along the way, I wouldn’t change a thing.”