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Hail to the chief

Ask most high school athletes to tell you something about themselves that people might not know, and the answers will probably revolve around a hobby or academic accomplishment. Not Norcross (Ga.) hoops star Al-Farouq Aminu.

"I'm a prince," he says in response to the stock query.

Indeed, Aminu descends from a line of Nigerian kings, and his name, Al-Farouq (though he often goes by just Farouq), means, "The chief has arrived." Rarely has a translation seemed more appropriate.

A 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward, Aminu is Georgia's No. 1 player and the nation's No. 10 recruit in the Class of 2008 by RISE. The Wake Forest recruit averaged nearly a double-double per game last season as Norcross captured its second consecutive Class AAAAA state championship and finished ranked No. 8 in the nation by RISE.

But Aminu's path to basketball royalty wasn't always regal. He transferred to Norcross from Wesleyan -- a small private school located just a third of a mile down the road from Norcross -- as a sophomore but was ruled ineligible because of state transfer rules. He played JV ball instead, which was initially disappointing but in hindsight may have been the best possible scenario. Every day during practice, Aminu went up against talented Norcross varsity players like 2007 Gatorade State Player of the Year and current Georgia Tech freshman Gani Lawal. But he didn't have to deal with the pressure of performing immediately for his new school.

Moreover, Aminu's absence from the hyper-competitive world of varsity hoops only strengthened his passion for the game.

"It made me open my eyes and realize how much I like basketball," he says. "It just renewed my sense of wanting to play -- my spirit for the game."

Still, Aminu didn't really feel like a part of the Blue Devils' 2005-06 state championship team. It wasn't until last season that the chief truly arrived. After a huge summer playing for the Georgia Stars, an elite AAU squad, Aminu went to work at Norcross. He was the team's second-leading scorer with 13.7 points per game, a number that becomes more impressive when you consider Norcross had four players who averaged double digits in scoring. Aminu shot 64 percent from the field and 33 percent from behind the arc.

But arguably the most impressive facet of Aminu's game was his work on the glass. He displayed an uncanny knack for rebounding, pulling down 21 boards against Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.) and another 20 against national power Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). He led the team with 9.5 rebounds per game on the season. Aminu says his dedication to rebounding stems in part from a conversation he had with his brother, Alade, who now plays for Georgia Tech.

"He said, 'I know you can get 20 points, why not 20 rebounds?'" Aminu recalls. By focusing on rebounding, scoring came naturally. Aminu wasn't forcing shots or waiting for his number to be called. If he could pull down an offensive board, it often meant an easy bucket.

"You might get eight points alone off of just putbacks," he says. Aminu can certainly dominate in the paint, but what makes him truly special is his versatility. He can post up or put up Dwight Howard-like rebounding totals, but he also has the wing skills and handle to match.

"If we needed him to, he could lead the break for us," Norcross coach Eddie Martin says. "I wouldn't compare him to a post, nor would I compare him to a guard. Farouq gives us a combination of those things."

That combination helped Norcross capture its second consecutive state championship last winter. And Aminu felt like he had more of a direct hand in title No. 2. "The second one felt real good," he says. After the high school season was over, Aminu helped the Georgia Stars capture titles at the Boo Williams Nike Invitational and the King James Shooting Stars Classic. He then participated in the LeBron James Skills Academy and was part of the USA Basketball Men's Youth Development Festival.

Throughout the summer, Aminu roomed with Rome center (and Georgia Stars teammate) Tony Woods. The two developed a tight friendship, so much so that they decided to attend college together at Wake Forest. Aminu was tempted to join his brother at Georgia Tech, but ultimately decided to go in another direction.

"I kind of wanted to go somewhere and do my own thing," he says. Not long after Aminu's commitment to Wake, Demon Deacons coach Skip Prosser died of a heart attack. While Aminu didn't know Prosser well, he was shocked and saddened because they were just beginning to form a relationship.

"I wish I would have been able to play for coach Prosser," Aminu says. "But coach Dino [Gaudio], he's a great guy, too."

Before he heads off to Winston-Salem, N.C., Aminu still has some business to take care of at Norcross. A soft-spoken but eloquent and thoughtful kid, Aminu will be called upon to be more of a leader this season.

"There's no question about that," Martin says. "The kids are going to look to him. Farouq is not a rah-rah verbal leader, but they look up to him. They respect him."

That's saying a lot considering Aminu only turned 17 in September. He could easily be classified as a junior -- but opposing coaches won't be sad to see him go.

"You look at his talent and you tend to forget he's a younger player," Martin says. "He has so much upside it's kind of scary."

In other words, maybe last year's coming-out party wasn't Aminu's official coronation.

Perhaps the chief has yet to assume his throne.

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