KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The routine has been the same for Fardaws Aimaq over the past few weeks.
With his left foot in a cast due to a foot injury, he’s confined to a scooter, crutches, or a wheelchair, depending on the situation. For Big 12 Media Days last week, Aimaq spoke to the media while he had his foot propped up on the scooter. He was up at 5 a.m. to get on a plane to fly from Lubbock, Texas, to Kansas City.
Injured players tend not to show up at media day. Aimaq was an exception.
“The goal has not changed with my injury,” Aimaq said. “We’re still trying to win the Big 12 and make a run in the NCAA Tournament no matter who is out there. I wanted to be here, and if that meant hopping on a jet at 5 a.m. and scooting around, I’ll do that.”
It’s the kind of dedication that coaches love, even if the situation is one that Red Raiders head coach Mark Adams hates to talk about.
“I get emotional thinking about it,” Adams said.
The timeline for Aimaq’s recovery had been an open question since the injury became known in September. Media days cleared some of that up. Aimaq said he and team trainers are taking his recovery “week-by-week.” He said he had been told he could be back by mid-January or early February. But he also made it clear that that timetable is one for a non-athlete. In other words, not someone in peak condition who has a team of trainers ready to help him rehab once he gets the cast off.
Adams, when asked directly about Aimaq’s status, said “we think he’ll be back about the start of Big 12.”
On Tuesday, Jon Rothstein of College Hoops Today tweeted that Adams told him that Aimaq would be back at the start of Big 12 play “at the latest.”
Everyone is optimistic now. But there was nothing optimistic about Aimaq’s outlook on the day of the injury.
“The first thing was I just remember sitting there and it didn’t hit me,” Aimaq said. “I called my dad and the first thing I started thinking about was what was the timeline? The injury happened, what’s the timeline? It was at that point I realized, ‘This is not good.’ That’s when the frustration set it.”
Aimaq was one of the most coveted transfers of the offseason. With Utah Valley in 2021-22, he averaged a double-double — 18.9 points and 13.6 rebounds. The 6-foot-11 senior was being counted on to add a different dimension to the Red Raiders, something they didn’t have last season — a true center.
The Red Raiders still have one in Daniel Batcho, a player Adams raved about at media days for his development since the end of last season. But he doesn’t have the track record of Aimaq, who was the 2021 WAC Player of the Year and a two-time WAC Defensive Player of the Year.
That’s why Adams wanted him. And that’s why Adams is crossing his fingers. He called him a “cornerstone” of the team last week. And Aimaq has been in Lubbock all of a few months.
“He’s got this personality that’s electric and great leadership to go with it,” Adams said. “So there are a lot of intangibles that we’re going missing with him.”
When Aimaq arrived in Lubbock he said he put on 10 pounds of lean muscle just working with team trainers, going from 240 to 250 pounds. Now that he’s in a cast, he’s doing everything possible to ensure that he’s ready to work once the cast is off. He’s watching what he eats, to the point of eating foods that can help aid the healing process of his bone. He’s doing alternative forms of conditioning.
But, nearly every day, Aimaq slides into a wheelchair and does a seated version of jump hooks — 500 on his left side, then 500 on his right side.
“By the end of the day I’ve shot 5,000 jump hooks,” Aimaq said. “It’s not a great think to have happened but I’m trying make something great come out of it.”
If something great comes out of it, that means Aimaq has gotten back on the floor for that first Big 12 game on Dec. 31 against TCU, or shortly after. He said whenever that time comes, he has to be ready.
Adams feels the same way.
“We need him,” Adams said.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard