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Northwestern Basketball Player Capsules: Chier Ajou

The college basketball season is a dark place. From April to November, teams across the country revert into a hoops hibernation, shielded from media spotlight and mostly unavailable to the public eye in the same way as, say, football players are during spring practice. Things ramp up again over the summer, and a recent NCAA rule pushing the start of official practice back two weeks ensures teams will begin formal preseason preparations even earlier this season. 

Those extra two weeks are a welcome development, but the college basketball season remains a distant entity, microscopically positioned in the most forward-looking reaches of our winter sports imaginations. We’re here to help you bridge the gap with some refresher-type player capsules. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be rolling out quick little offseason snapshots of each player, how they performed last season and what you can probably expect as the Wildcats prepare for new coach Chris Collins’ first season. So if you’re ever missing basketball, if you find yourself pining for what’s to come on the hardwood this winter, you have brief individual player breakdowns to hold you over.

There is a lot of time to fill during a college hoops offseason, and convenient exercises like these can expedite the process.  

Chier Ajou

Stats to know (from 2012-13 unless indicated otherwise)

GP: 7

PPG: 1.1

MPG: 4.3

RPG: 0.57

3FG%: 1.000 (!)

History

In seven games last season, Ajou logged 30 minutes, scored eight points and by January 6, after playing one minute in a loss at Minnesota, had officially called off his freshman season and opted to redshirt. Probably the most notable thing Ajou did all season was hit a three-point shot in garbage time against eventual national finalist Michigan. Suffice it to say long-range shooting is not about to become a go-to staple of Ajou’s offensive repertoire.

If I were to describe Ajou’s entire history, from his war-town childhood in South Sudan to his enrollment in famous (or infamous) Indiana prep school Culver academy to his initial commitment to New Mexico to his bleak summer 2012 NCAA eligibility waiting game, this section could drone off into 5,000-word territory pretty quickly. We’re not going there – these capsules are designed to capture basketball-related questions. But if you’d like to get a deeper look into Ajou’s interesting backstory, out own Gordon Voit sat down with Ajou and put together a really neat video about his path to NU.

Where he fits 

The first question that needs answering, and at this point I’m not sure anyone is qualified to answer it other than Ajou himself and his doctors, is whether Ajou has rehabilitated the knee ailments that held him back last season – that (at least partially) led him to hang it up, call it a season and redshirt after just seven games. For a player of Ajou’s size (7’2’’, 235 pounds), lower body injuries are always scary problems to have, because they tend to linger, or reoccur, or both, and Ajou can’t really afford either if he wants to be a productive frontcourt player for Chris Collins this season.

The frontcourt isn’t stacked, or even crowded. It’s quite barren, actually, with Alex Olah, Mike Turner and Nikola Cerina offering making up Northwestern’s returning frontcourt experience (Abrahamson is listed as a forward at 6’7’’, but I wouldn’t put him in the same class, or even the same position group as Cerina, Olah, Ajou and Turner). There is a need for quality frontcourt depth, and Ajou, if healthy, might be able to provide a few minutes of bench assistance here and there. 

What to expect

An entire season without knee problems is a baseline. His health is the biggest underlying concern, but if we’re running under the presumption that Ajou can survive the breadth of a 30 + game season, adding a low-minutes forward who can contribute rebounding, shotblocking and unrefined offense in spurts to an undermanned big man rotation is a reasonable predictive outline for Ajou in 2013. The Wildcats can use frontcourt help wherever they can get it this season, and if Ajou can step in and steer opposing penetrating guards away from the rim, or just eat up space in the paint, his presence will be a welcome development.

Without knowing how Collins plans to use his limited stock of frontcourt depth this season, I can’t say for sure how or with whom Ajou will share the floor. Pairing him with Olah would leave Northwestern at the mercy of quicker and more athletic frontcourts, while at the same time making it virtually unguardable against smallish forward tandems. Perhaps Ajou will become the centerpiece of a short-burst four-guard lineup, with Ajou anchoring the paint and a crop of shooters spreading the floor around him. Just tracking the first full season of Northwestern’s tallest player in program history – whether he contributes in miniature spurts or double-digit minutes or otherwise – will be an exciting progression to examine. Any added scoring, defending and rebounding he produces on top of that is a bonus.