The Fuquay-Varina player backing down Fred Iruafemi never stood a chance.
Iruafemi swatted the ball away, a reminder of what the 6-foot-7 Middle Creek shot-blocking center can do to an opponent’s attempts.
The crowd reveled in the rejection.
But Iruafemi never does.
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“We have to finish out the possession. If we don’t go down and score, the block is pretty much wasted,” he said.
When Iruafemi celebrates, if he celebrates at all, he said it’s “when we’re winning – when we know the game is in our hands.”
He’s blocked 120 shots for an average of five per game. He’s 0-for-120 in celebrations after the highlight play.
“Some of my favorite plays in the last couple of years have been when he has those two-hand blocks off the backboard and he doesn’t stare anybody down and he doesn’t make a big deal about it. He turns and throws an outlet pass to halfcourt for a layup,” said Mustangs coach David Kushner.
The big senior who didn’t play organized basketball until late in middle school – and who never registered more than nine points in any junior varsity game over two seasons – is not into theatrics, just playing ball. And he’s been pretty good at it this season.
Iruafemi leads his team in points (12.8 per game), rebounds (10.4), steals (1.5), assists (2.1) and, of course, blocks.
He’s most proud of assists, which are uncommonly high for any player of his size and position.
“I’m getting my team involved. I’m not caring much about myself, just winning the game,” Iruafemi said.
His nonchalance toward his own success or big plays causes other players to gravitate to Iruafemi, Kushner said.
“He has been one of the most satisfying players that I’ve ever coached, from a coaching standpoint, because he always gets better, he’s always been coachable, and he’s always been a great teammate. And then off the court, teachers love him, students love him just because he’s the same person on and off the court,” Kushner said.
“He’s not putting on a show for anyone. He’s just a very genuine person who is very likable.
“It’s very refreshing – most of the time,” Kushner continued. “But sometimes it becomes frustrating because we want him more vocal and boisterous in a sense to pump his team up. He’s definitely more of a quiet leader, but he’s gained a lot more confidence being a senior.”
Iruafemi has blossomed on the offensive end this season, which has caused Division II and III colleges to take notice.
But even as he’s emerged as a go-to player, his reaction – or lack of reaction – is still the same even on the other side of the court.
Confidence has been his biggest difference this season, Iruafemi said. “When you’re not confident, you can’t ... do anything.”
And he’s shown that confidence doesn’t have to include showmanship.