Precious Achiuwa’s media availability was shorter than normal Monday.
“I had to drag him out of the weight-room,” the director of the press conference said.
The 6’10” native New Yorker has garnered national attention for his high school performance eventually earning the No. 17 recruiting class ranking for 2019. He had to deal with some early adversity during Saturday’s victory in the FedExForum over regional rival Ole Miss, when he dubiously air-balled not one, but consecutive free-throw attempts—an especially rare feat among top professional prospects like himself.
“Man, I felt so dumb,” the freshman said.
Achiuwa called Saturday’s 87-86 victory a “rivalry game” and said that, despite already playing a nationally televised game against a ranked opponent in an NBA arena on the road in Portland, OR, the Ole Miss game was the first moment he felt pressure playing in front of a large crowd.
“I was a little nervous, I’m not even going to lie,” Achiuwa said of the consecutive air-balls. “This was a huge game for the city of Memphis and for Mississippi.”
According to Achiuwa, the near capacity crowd at FedExForum caught him momentarily off guard.
“I stepped to the free-throw line, looked up, saw a whole bunch of people, and just thought ‘damn,’” Achiuwa said.
Achiuwa promptly proceeded to dominate the game on the both ends. His efforts were recognized Monday by the American Athletic Conference as he was honored with the Player of the Week award, which was news to Achiuwa himself, who downplayed the individual accolade.
“Actually I had no idea,” Achiuwa said when asked how it felt to be honored by the conference. “I came straight here from class and haven’t looked at my phone,” Achiuwa said.
Absent James Wiseman, Achiuwa explained his mentality in the moment, and said the obvious embarrassment at the free-throw line inspired him.
“After that, I just said I can’t be doubting myself. Everybody needs me to play, and that pushed me to play the way I did,” Achiuwa said.
Coach Penny Hardaway said his primary concern for his young group is learning and gaining experience. Thursday in New York City will be a prime opportunity, especially given Saturday’s loss of retro-style, short-short wearing Lester Quiones, who will miss three to four weeks with a broken hand.
“It’s not easy to replace the toughness he brings to the floor, even when he’s not shooting well,” Hardaway said of the thick-legged freshman.
Hardaway predictably said replacing Quiones will be done “by committee,” but specifically mentioned the Memphis East High School foursome of “Jayden [Hardaway], Ryan Boyce, Alex Lomax, and Tyler Harris.”
The aforementioned Memphians, who call their team a family, will depend on Achiuwa on 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, when the 16th ranked Tigers take on the 5-1 N.C. State Wolfpack from the Atlantic Coast Conference live from the NBA’s Barclay’s Center on ESPN2.