CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – Aidan Igiehon remembers the tears.
Just a couple of years before he blossomed into a five-star class of 2019 prospect near the top of Louisville’s recruiting board, Igiehon found basketball much harder as a raw prospect in a new country far from his family in Ireland.
“When you’re 13 years old, you see bright lights (of the United States) and you want to go there,” Igiehon said. “Then when I’m here, I’m like, ‘Man, I miss my mom.’ I’m still a huge mama’s boy. … There’s some workouts I cry, I don’t want to do it. I’m a kid.
“It made me have to be a man quick. It’s a hard process and nobody really understands that, but just try being a 13-year-old kid across the world from your mom.”
Now 17, Igiehon has made the most of his move from Dublin to New York City.
Igiehon acknowledged he was naïve about the level of competition and intensity he would face in American basketball after playing mostly for fun in Ireland, but the physical gifts of his 6-foot-10 frame have more than made up for any adjustment period.
Kentucky, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Oregon, Florida, St. John’s, Georgia, Stanford and Pittsburgh are all also still in the running for Igiehon’s college commitment. UK has yet to extend a scholarship offer, but Louisville might be the favorite in his recruitment.
In the wake of Igiehon’s recent unofficial visit to campus, 247Sports national basketball recruiting director Evan Daniels picked the Cards as Igiehon’s eventual college destination.
“I don’t really know who’s a leader at this point, but they’re pretty much up there though,” Igiehon said of Louisville. “Me and Coach (Chris) Mack we talk every day, FaceTime every day. They’re making me a priority, which I enjoy.”
The level of Kentucky’s interest is less certain.
UK coach John Calipari has prioritized fellow five-star big men James Wiseman, Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt. Wiseman and Carey are both ranked No. 1 in the class by at least one recruiting services, and Hurt is ranked No. 6 overall in the 2019 class in the 247Sports composite rankings.
Igiehon, who is ranked 16th, is considered more of a project than some of the other five-star post players due to his relative late adoption of the sport.
“Aidan is still developing those positive instincts,” said former Rutgers coach Mike Rice, who coaches Igiehon for Team Rio on the Under Armour AAU circuit. “He’s a little bit too mechanical at times and slow in reading the defense, but physically he is so gifted and can step back out and hit the 17-18 foot jumpshot, which he couldn’t do about six months ago.”
Igiehon said he still expects to eventually receive a UK scholarship offer, but it is unlikely the Wildcats move on another post player until it becomes clearer which school Wiseman, Carey and Hurt will pick.
Even without a Kentucky offer, Igiehon should have no trouble landing a spot at a marquee program.
Rice compares Igiehon to current UK sophomore Nick Richards, whom he also coached in high school. Like Igiehon, Richards, a native of Jamaica, did not grow up playing basketball as often as top American prospects and moved to the United States as a teenager to focus on the sport full-time.
At times, like when he missed a wide-open dunk that could have tied the game late in what ended up being the loss that knocked Team Rio out of the Under Armour Challenge, it’s obvious how Igiehon’s inexperience has kept him out of the top-10 despite his Adonis-like frame.
But when he blocks a shot on one end of the court and converts a powerful post move on the other, it is also easy to see why coaches like Mack are so excited about his potential.
“My whole thing is to develop,” Igiehon said. “I’ve only been playing since I was 12. … I’m physically blessed, so that helps. I can run, jump. I’m pretty much stronger than everybody I play against. It’s pretty much to add that face-up game. So, I think my ceiling is pretty high.”
Igiehon moved to New York as a 13-year-old in June 2014. After considering various prep school basketball powerhouses, including DeMatha Catholic in Maryland, he eventually landed at Lawrence Woodmere Academy in Long Island.
While Woodmere was not known for producing high-level basketball prospects, enrolling at the Long Island school allowed him to continue to live with his aunt and uncle in the city and Igiehon is still exposed to high-level competition playing for Team Rio, which also features five-star guards Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis.
Rice has already noticed the difference moving to the United States has made for Igiehon.
“He didn’t grow up playing in AAU or going to training and going to workouts and doing all the things that our American youth take for granted,” Rice said. “He played once a week growing up. … He’s now kind of catching up to all of the U.S.-born players who have kind of played it since they were 6 or 7 years old, since they could reach the hoop.
“He’ll get better. His IQ and his academic part of him makes him so unique. He cares just as much academically as he does with basketball. Truly very mature beyond his years when it comes to that.”
Igiehon thinks the maturation forced by his move away from his family in high school will make him a better college player than some other prospects who will be living away from home for the first time.
“I’m 17, but I’m a man,” he said. “I’ve been through it. I’m away from my real home. So whether it’s seven hours or 14 hours (away from New York), it doesn’t matter.”
Igiehon still makes regular trips home to Ireland. He’ll visit his mother there in August before cutting down his list to five schools.
And wherever Igiehon plays in college, expect his Irish pride to shine through.
“I have a little American accent. I’m black, so nobody wants to really believe I’m Irish,” Igiehon said. “I’m always trying to put (Ireland) up there. … I always try to go back and forth just to see how many lives I’m touching over there. It’s actually really humbling.”