A tall and lanky kid decides just before his senior year that he wants to give organized basketball a try for the first time. For Oakton’s 6-foot-6 Winston Aja-Omu, that opportunity was one he couldn’t pass up. His days playing pick-up games at the local rec center were over.
But don’t call the Nigerian native a “project.” Aja-Omu is anything but, says his coach David Brooks. And with his solid and sometimes dominating start to the season, it’s hard to disagree. The difference-making post player has helped to make the Cougars into one of the area’s biggest surprises this young season. He’s averaging 10.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while serving as a paint protector and rim protector for a solid rebounding squad.
After walking off the Providence Community Center courts and into Oakton’s gym this past fall, Aja-Omu has gone from relatively unknown to being very much known. His efforts were on full display during the holiday break, as he helped the Cougars to an upset tournament win with three victories in three days at the Glory Days Invitational at Lake Braddock.
And all this during a senior year where the Nigerian native (who moved to the United States at age three) is looking ahead to earning a medical degree.
“I played soccer when I was young, and soccer was my number one sport,” Aja-Omu said. “Sometimes I played basketball outdoors. But eventually, I fell in love with basketball. Now, that is my sport. Playing at the rec center was fine, but I was looking for more competition, so I came out for the team in the fall.”
Brooks said Aja-Omu’s 100 percent emotional and physical commitment to the team and the program has made a big difference.
“He’s still learning some of the nuances of the game such as whether or not to stand in front of behind the player he is defending in the paint or how to handle ball screens,” Brooks says. “But his progression (since fall) has been rapid. He’s a quick learner. We are running sets on offense for him and he’s a quick study. It comes naturally for him. He has a great feel for the game. He’s not a project at all. He might look raw, but he’s not raw.”
While three-point shooting wows high school crowds, Brooks says most prep game are determined by who scores the most lay-ups. And while Aja-Omu’s shooting range extends to about 15 feet, Brooks said his positioning, long arms and ability to quickly go to the rim and deliver the ball makes him difficult to contain.
“What he gives us near the basket on both ends is so valuable in this way,” Brooks says. “Knowing he’s back there on defense or under the basket on offense frees the rest of our guys to do the things we need to succeed.”
During a recent game against Robinson, Aja-Omu tallied 17 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards and three blocked shots. In the Glory Days tournament final win over Stone Bridge, he was one of four Cougars who had seven or more defensive rebounds.
Aja-Omu, whose big growth spurt came during his freshman year, says he’s more comfortable at a forward position than center, but is pleased with his progress. “I’m learning how not to always be leaving my feet underneath on defense and how to close faster on defense. I’m getting the movements down.”
Brooks said Aja-Omu brings a quiet confidence and calming influence to his team. “He gives all of us a sense of comfort when he’s on the floor,” Brooks said.
Aja-Omu is one of four children born to his mother (a nurse practitioner) and father (a lawyer) who won a visa lottery and came to the United States about a dozen years ago.
Aja-Omu’s mother has been a great influence on her son. He said she has shown him the “beauty of medicine” throughout his life, which has inspired him to focus on biology and chemistry and eventually, a medical degree. To him, the ideal double-double is basketball and academics.
The past summer, he participated in leadership conferences at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, part of a group of 50 seniors who attended lectures by Harvard’s medical staff, and another at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Aja-Omu said George Washington University, New York University and the University of Virginia are potential landing spots for his undergraduate study.
He isn’t ruling out the possibility of playing college basketball, perhaps as a walk-on. “It will all come down to the more important thing–making sure I have time to study,” he said.
Interestingly enough, “medically speaking” Aja-Omu said he’s unfamiliar with former NBA superstar Julius Erving, affectionately known as Dr. J. He instead studies Stephen Curry’s game, especially how the Golden State Warrior all-star moves off the ball. If Aja-Omu continues to improve each game, don’t be surprised if he soon “operates” the same way.
Oakton (6-5) had its three-game winning streak snapped Friday at home by undefeated South County (11-0). This week, it hosts South Lakes on Tuesday and travels to Madison on Friday.