Services Wanted

MapQuest lists the distance from Huntington, W.Va., to Oxford at upwards of 573 miles. Or, in more relatable terms, at nearly 10 hours, depending on your route of choice.

But for Maurice Aniefiok, the trek here -- should the 2011 prospect choose to play for Ole Miss and head coach Andy Kennedy -- would be much, much greater.

Aniefiok, born and raised in Nigeria, made the move to the United States in September with the dream of playing competitive basketball at its highest level. A combo guard, he landed in Huntington, and quickly enrolled at Huntington Prep where he'd play basketball for one of the country's better high school teams.

"The transition's been really wonderful, actually. I've gotten to learn a lot, especially with basketball, learning the style of basketball here," he said by phone Thursday night. "It's a little bit different from what we have back home in terms of athleticism. It's fast-paced basketball."

But it wasn't always wonderful. In fact, those first few months were tough. Really tough.

Aniefiok is in the United States because of his performance at an invitation-only basketball camp during the summer. He was one of a select few chosen to cross the Atlantic to participate in the camp, which included some 500 other players from the U.S. and Nigeria, among other places.

Aniefiok, born and raised in Nigeria, moved to the U.S. in September
File Photo
Aniefiok was named the camp's Most Valuable Player. His future head coach, Rob Fulford, saw potential in the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Aniefiok. So he recruited Aniefiok to the states. But that's all he was, a player living on potential. His game needed work, and lots of it.

"That's what makes you a better person," Aniefiok said. "You're going to have to struggle for a little bit, but the most important thing is how you stand up to adversity."

Aniefiok admits he was a selfish basketball player when he first arrived. He had to develop a different mentality, the mentality of a team concept. In Nigeria, he was almost always one of the better, if not the best, players on a basketball court.

He struggled with his game initially. When he first arrived, he felt he had to "get on the basketball court and do me," in his words. He needed time to adjust, time to learn.

"Being here, I've really been able to understand what it means to be on a basketball court. You're defining your position on a basketball court, what you're supposed to do when the ball is received or when the ball is not with you."

Aniefiok got better as the season progressed. He matured. He slowly but surely picked up on that unfamiliar, quick style of play. He was getting his teammates involved. "Doing me" didn't work. He figured that out quickly.

He had to play for the team, for the name on the front of the jersey and not the back.

"It's not about you, but about the team," he said. "So whenever I step on a basketball court, it's not about you thinking about yourself. I had a little bit of that when I first came. I struggled a little bit with my game because I thought it was about me. Later on I stepped up. It's not about how many points I score; it's about what I do to help my team win. It's about going on the basketball court and playing hard, finishing strong. Leave everything on the basketball court."

Seven months later, Aniefiok has emerged as a legitimate Division-I prospect, garnering interest from various schools after leading Huntington Prep -- ranked in the top-20 nationally at season's end – to a 22-3 record. Huntington Prep does not participate in the West Virginia state playoffs.

Aniefiok averaged nearly 17 points per game. Better yet, he developed into a defensive stopper and a capable rebounder. He is also versatile in the positions he can play. Aniefiok is receiving calls from various colleges. He holds offers from Ole Miss and Duquesne. Southern Cal and Indiana are involved in his recruitment, as well.

Changes. His mentality. His athleticism. His shot. He changed them all in some way. Because he had to adjust. He had to transition. And now it's paying off, with visits to college campuses in his future, the dream closer to becoming a reality.

Aniefiok has emerged as Ole Miss' top target in the spring signing period
File Photo
"I'm kind of new here. I don't want to make a mistake. I don't want to make a quick decision. I really want to be sure of where I go spend four years of my life," he said. "I want to be sure this school is going to be a good place for me to stay and play basketball and go to school.

"It's not about how beautiful or how good looking the school is. It's just about me feeling like, ‘OK, fine, I feel like I have a chance of playing here.' That's it."

Ole Miss has his attention. Kennedy and assistant Michael White dropped in to see Aniefiok at his school Monday. It was the first time Aniefiok met Kennedy face to face. Had Aniefiok already been in America for a couple of years, he would have probably decided on a school by now.

He likes Kennedy. Aniefiok said the two had some productive conversations Monday. There is a need at Ole Miss. Gone are guards Chris Warren and Zach Graham, two of the winningest players in program history.

"If I think Ole Miss is a place I can enjoy and all that stuff -- get better, work on my game, have a chance to really play, step up and all that -- then I'll just make my decision right away," he said, "because I really don't care about all this. If I think it's Indiana or I think it's USC or wherever, I'll just go ahead and make my decision."

Still, he is not placing any one school above the other, though Ole Miss has obviously made an impression. Aniefiok has emerged as the Rebels' top target in the spring signing period. Actually, he's the only name to surface so far.

"Ole Miss has really been showing me a lot of interest. They already have my attention, so I'm really focusing on Ole Miss big time right now."

His decision -- which he plans to make after taking his visits -- won't be based on how big the school is or its basketball history. He's merely searching for the school offering a good education and eager to help him continue to improve on and off the floor.

"I know (Ole Miss) is a great school, great history and all that," he said. "My interest for Ole Miss is a little bit high right now. It would be a good school, a good place for me to be. I'll take my visit first to know."

OM Spirit Top Stories