Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
It’s Columbus Day, October 14thand it’s the American Athletic Conference Media Day in Philadelphia. It’s the eve of a new basketball season and the teams in the conference are gathered together to talk to the media from all around the country. There’s one team that commands the attention of many on hand.
Memphis, fresh off of landing a top-tier recruiting class, is in the building and has had plenty of excitement building up from it ever since. Head coach Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway is here with both of his spectacular freshmen, James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa, both of whom were McDonald’s All-Americans back in March. When it comes to media days, normally you have upperclassmen present. But the fact that Hardaway brought two players that hadn’t played a game means that they planned to make a statement.
In the case of Achiuwa, making statements is something that he always does. He’s not much of a talker on the court, but more of a silent assassin. Off the court, he is soft-spoken, but to those that know him best, he is fun to be around and always has great vibes.
Also on the court, the 6-foot-9 forward is a player that can run the floor well and run on the fast break with the ball. He can also play above the rim and can grab rebounds and block shots with the best of them. All of those are qualities which will make him an asset to the Tigers this season.
When asked what makes him successful on the court, he replied, “I’m very competitive, so it’s just being able to go out there every night and show that I’m the best player on the floor, just do whatever it takes to help my team win the game.”
Achiuwa was born in Port Haucort, Nigeria and came to the United States as an eighth-grader. He settled in The Bronx, New York and considers himself a native New Yorker. Also around the time he first came to the States, is the same time he picked up a basketball. Also, he also has family that excelled on the hardwood as well. His older brother, Gods’Gift Achiuwa, played two years of collegiate basketball for St. John’s University and was a force for the Red Storm from 2011 to 2014.
When asked about the Nigerian culture, he replied, “Oh, I mean, it’s very different, you know, it’s very cultural back there, there’s a lot of ethnicity. People tend to be more, you know, very cultural back there in comparison to New York. New York is really, really diverse. It’s just different from New York.”
On moving to the States at the age of 14 and asked if it was a culture shock, he replied, “Yeah, it was a culture shock, but you know, I actually got used to it after awhile, and I pretty much adapted to the culture quicker than a lot of other people.”
As a freshman, Achiuwa started out at Our Saviour Lutheran High School in The Bronx, and made his name as one of the best ninth-graders in the city and throughout the tri-state area. When asked about OSL, he replied, “It was a family decision [to attend the school], just going to a place that was close to home, getting used to the environment at first, and after that just branched out and made the best decisions for me., moving forward.”
Then the following season, he transferred to St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, where he established himself on the national level. As a junior, he averaged 18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 2.2 steals per game and led the Gray Bees to a 28-2 record and a New Jersey Prep A Tournament title.
When asked about his two years with the Gray Bees, he replied, “Oh, it was amazing, getting to play with Coach [Mark] Taylor and Coach [Art] Pierson, they taught me the game, they helped me expand my game and you know, just become a better player from my freshman year.”
Then as a senior, he went on to play for Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida, which finished as the No. 4 team in the USA Today national poll with a 22-3 record. Achiuwa averaged 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game and led the Eagles to the semifinals of the GEICO High School National Tournament in Middle Village, New York.
On playing for Montverde and its prestigious head coach, Kevin Boyle, Sr., Achiuwa replied, “I mean, it was nice, we played a high level of high school [talent], it was good playing for Coach Boyle, he knows what he’s doing, he’s coached a lot of good players. Just listening to him and taking in as much knowledge as I could from him and just becoming a better player.”
Following the end of his senior season, Achiuwa was selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game in late March in Atlanta, Georgia, where he had 22 points & nine rebounds. In April, he was also chosen to participate in the Nike Hoop Summit event in Portland, Oregon and played on the World Team and had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
When asked about accomplishing the feat of the McDonald’s Game, which most young basketball players dream of, he replied, “It was amazing to be named a McDonald’s All-American, that’s something that a lot of kids who play basketball want to achieve, and just being able to be in that conversation was a blessing for me.”
On May 17th, after fielding offers from many schools such as Illinois, Kansas, Ohio State, Minnesota, Syracuse, St. John’s and others, Achiuwa, a top-20 prospect nationally, chose to play for Memphis.
When asked about his decision, he replied, “It was a family decision and I wanted to go to a school where it was family-oriented and Coach Penny Hardaway and Coach Mike [Miller], those were people I was comfortable with. I liked the culture, the way they approached me, and just everything in general about them and the coaching staff and what they’re about.”
When asked about learning from Hardaway, a former NBA player and a four-time All-Star in the 1990’s, he replied, “I’ve learned a lot from him, you know, he’s an amazing player, he did it at a really high level and just stressing whatever he says because I know he’s right, and he’s been where I’m trying to get to, so I listen to whatever he tells me.”
No matter how far he goes, he always shows love to New Heights, the upper Manhattan-based AAU program that he played for since he first picked up a basketball. If you go to the program’s office on East 117thStreet in Harlem, you will see a framed picture on the walls of Achiuwa and fellow Memphis freshman Lester Quinones, who also played for the program during his high school years.
When asked about New Heights, he replied, “New Heights is my AAU program, and I mean, New Heights was a platform to showcase who I was during the summertime, and I appreciate everything they did for me, and it was amazing.”
Now that he’s in college at Memphis, Achiuwa got to experience some new things, such as the “Memphis Madness,” event on October 3rd, where the Tigers got to showcase their talents in front of about 18,000 fans at the FedEx Forum, which is also the home of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. The program also brought out platinum-selling rappers Moneybagg Yo, Future and Lil’ Baby.
When asked about the experience of Midnight Madness, he replied, “That was an amazing experience, it was more for like, the school just showing the players to the fans, just showing them what we’re about, and you know, that was the first time the fans got a chance to see the whole team, and it was a good night, we all had fun, a lot of events went on that night, and it was a great event.”
Four days later, on October 7th, the Tigers had their Pro Day event, in which the players showcased their talents in front of the NBA scouts from all 30 NBA teams. When asked about the experience of playing in front of the scouts, he replied, “That was a good experience for a lot of us, you know, freshmen. It’s the first time we experienced something like that and it was good and I think we did great as a group and I’m just looking forward to seeing what the future has.”
Throughout his first two games, he is averaging 12 points and 7.5 rebounds in the Tigers’ first two wins over South Carolina State and UIC. But the program’s toughest test will be coming up this Tuesday, November 12th, as the Tigers, whom are currently ranked at No. 14 in the Associated Press national poll, will play Oregon, the No. 15 team in the poll in the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon.
Another big game for Achiuwa to get excited for is the Barclays Center Classic, which will take place later this month on Thanksgiving Day, November 28th, at the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn as the Tigers will be taking on North Carolina State.
When asked about coming back to New York to play in front of family & friends, he replied, “Yeah, I’m from New York, I lived there, so just coming back home and being able to play back home, it’s going to be exciting, I know there’s going to be a lot of people at the game. It’s just going to be exciting, I’m going to be looking forward to playing back home in New York.”
Now that he’s on the college level, it’s time for Precious Achiuwa to shine and he plans on doing nothing more than succeeding every time he steps on the court. When asked about what everyone can expect from him moving forward, he replied, “You know, whatever it takes to help my team win the game, it’s just not going to be one thing, it’s going to be a whole bunch of things depending on the situation of the game.”