Saturday, November 16, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Falcon stays one, signs with USAFA

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski senior Joe Aikens cemented his future plans Friday morning by signing an NCAA letter of intent to play college basketball for the Air Force Academy. Aikens averaged 13.5 points, five rebounds and five assists as a junior for the Falcons, but it wasn’t his performances on the high-school court that drew the offer from Colorado Springs. It was, along with his AAU performances, what got him invited to a camp hosted by the Academy. It was his performance while there that garnered the offer.

“Two days after that camp they offered me,” said Aikens shortly after signing. “I finally made that 24 and they invited me up.”

It took a determined and persistent effort to get that 24.

“They called me up from watching me in an AAU tournament I was in,” Aikens said. They told me to make a 24 on the ACT and call them back. I got three 23s in a row. That was really getting on my nerves. I think I was out getting my oil changed when my dad called me and told me I got the 24. I was so happy. I was excited.”

Basketball wasn’t the only reason the 6-foot-4 guard was interested in the Air Force.

“Above all I want to be a pilot,” Aikens said. “Plus, the academics stuck out to me and the coaching. The system and his program there, I like.”

Aikens transferred to North Pulaski the summer before his junior year after spending two years in the Jacksonville High School program. He played for the freshmen team his first year and then made varsity his sophomore year, but didn’t get much time on the floor with the senior-dominated lineup.

Playing time and academics were his two main reasons for transferring.

“I saw a chance for a lot more time on the court,” Aikens said. “And when I got here I didn’t know too many people. That helped because it kept me from hanging out too much and helped me stay focused. Plus, there are great teachers here. They’re always about helping. It’s a great school.”

North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson believes besides talent, dedication earned Aikens this accomplishment.

“Like he told the crowd, he put in a lot of hard work,” said Jackson. “He’s accomplished a lot outside of school, doing his skills and drills. It was a long process. He put a lot of time. He’s just a kid who believed in himself and accomplished his goals. He’s matured a lot and become one of our stronger leaders.”