“I felt as though it wasn’t enough contact,” said Ajemba, a physical 6-foot-2 center. “I came into high school wanting to play football.”
Ajemba leaves the Riverdale Park school content with her progress in both sports. This fall, she finally tried football for the first time and recorded 15 tackles and a sack in five games as a defensive end for the Panthers. (“I never knew how much I actually loved the sport until I actually got out there in uniform,” she said.)
After a senior basketball season in which she averaged nearly 19 rebounds per game, Ajemba signed with Old Dominion on Thursday, capping a whirlwind recruitment.
She had only junior college and Division II interest when the high school season ended but piled up suitors after shining in two local all-star games and an unsigned senior showcase in Hampton, Va. last month. She said her other finalists were East Carolina and Division II Virginia State.
“I thought I did okay [at the showcase], but I guess everybody saw my potential,” Ijemba said. “They say you can’t teach size. I do have size.”
Though Coach Lawrence Watson believed Ajemba had Division I talent, the process required patience. She had qualifying grades and played summer basketball. Still, her recruitment was likely slow, in part, because she only suited up for the Panthers during her sophomore and senior seasons.
Eye-popping stats this winter alone weren’t enough to muster much additional interest. She averaged 8.6 points, 18.9 rebounds and 5.6 blocks per game, including a 23-point, 33-rebound, 10-block performance in a Feb. 5 win over High Point.
Watson felt like Ajemba’s offensive stats were muted by his team’s struggles in the back court, but her tenacity on the boards stood out every time she took the floor.
“It’s just a natural thing with her,” Watson said. “That’s what she loves to do.”
Watson’s phone began buzzing more regularly with calls about Ajemba after the Prince George’s County Senior All-Star game with schools such as Liberty, Morgan State and Howard expressing interest.
After another strong performance at the unsigned senior event at the Boo Williams Sportsplex (just a short drive from Old Dominion’s campus), Ajemba’s list of prospective schools expanded beyond the local area with UTEP, Bradley and East Carolina joining the mix.
The late surge proved somewhat overwhelming, but Ajemba said advice from football coach Lorenzo Fludd helped: Follow your heart.
Until late, Ajemba said she expected to end up at a school in the Division I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference or Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, both comprised of historically black colleges. She ultimately picked Old Dominion, believing the Monarchs, who are headed to Conference USA, give her the best chance to continue her career professionally overseas after college.
“I felt as though we made a connection the first time [her and ODU Coach Karen Barefoot] met,” said Ajemba, who will major in sports medicine. “As soon as I got on campus, I felt a strong vibe with the coaches and even more so with the team that I didn’t get at other places. I kind of felt at home over there.”
All four of Parkdale’s seniors will head to college next year, according to Watson.