Sky’s the Limit for Ajama
LOWELL -- David Ajama is well-versed in the ups and downs an athlete can experience over the course of a high school career.
During his time at Lowell High, Ajama has gone from the low of being cut from the basketball team to the high of becoming one of the most accomplished jumpers in the history of the Red Raiders’ track program.
Basketball was this multi-talented senior’s game of choice growing up. Ajama was blessed with a great leaping ability and couldn’t wait to spend his winters soaring to the basket at the Riddick Field House.
Unfortunately, Ajama, who played on Lowell’s junior varsity team as a sophomore, had the air taken out of his roundball career when he was cut during tryouts his junior year.
Once his hoop dreams came to an end, Ajama was looking to make the jump to a new sport. As it happens, Lowell indoor track coach Scott Ouellet had been trying to convince Ajama to come out for track since watching him dunk a basketball during gym class his freshman year.
So Ajama decided to give track a try last spring. And much like a missile hidden in a silo, Ajama rose from out of nowhere to place second in the high jump with a school-record height of 6-foot-10 at the All-State Meet.
After only six varsity track meets, Ajama had launched himself into the stratosphere of a highly-recruited high school athlete. Prior to the start of this winter’s indoor season, Ajama accepted a track scholarship to attend the University of Connecticut. Among the other colleges that recruited him were Penn State, Louisville, Rutgers and UMass Lowell.
“I still miss basketball every once in awhile,” said Ajama. “I wish the best for the basketball team. It’s great that they’re doing so well. I was disappointed when I got cut, but it was really a blessing to be honest. I know if I didn’t get cut, I never would have tried out for track.
“I would have just kept playing basketball and I never would have received a scholarship. Everything worked out for the best. I knew I just couldn’t sit around at home. So I tried out for track because Coach O had been on me to go out for track since freshman year. I figured I might as well just try it. I started jumping and things just took off.”
In outdoor track last spring, Ajama helped the Red Raiders win the MVC, EMass. Division 1 and All-State team titles. At the Division 1 Meet, Ajama placed second in the high jump (6-4) and eighth in the triple jump (43-7). He placed seventh in the high jump at 6-5 at the New England Championships.
Leap for the ages
Ajama’s performance at the spring All-State Meet is the stuff of legend in a Red Raider track program filled with legendary performers.
“That story will almost never be duplicated,” said Ouellet, who is an assistant on coach Dave Casey’s staff in the spring. “He goes from 6-4 to jumping 6-10 in one meet. This isn’t going from 5-4 to 6-feet. It’s 6-4 to 6-10. Amazing! Just an incredible performance.”
The incredible has become the norm for this fast-rising star. Ajama, 17, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 155 pounds, has won every high jump event he’s competed in this indoor season.
He also competes in the long jump indoors and has a personal best distance of 20-8.5. Ajama was named the Most Outstanding Field Athlete at the East Coast Invitational in Providence last Saturday after placing first in the high jump and seventh in the long jump.
“He’s still very raw,” said Ouellet. “When you watch him jump it’s freakish. It’s like one of those guys in the NBA, he just floats. He’s just a freak athlete.
“I think that was part of his allure to college coaches. Most college coaches saw what he did after only six high school track meets and were imagining what they could do with him.”
Although he possesses the necessary spring and elasticity needed to be a successful high jumper, Ajama knows natural ability will only carry him so far. He spends much of his time at practice working with Red Raider jumping coach Gilberto Brown, a former Lowell High and UMass Lowell standout.
“I could always jump, dating back to elementary school,” said Ajama, who is an honor roll student. “But it was just in basketball. The first time I dunked (a basketball) was in freshman year of high school. But I had no idea I could compete in jumps for track. It was very hard to get the technique down.
“The first couple meets I couldn’t go as high as I’d like because I didn’t have the technique down. It takes more than being able to jump to clear the bar. You have to be able to arch. You have to want to keep getting better. You have to believe you can do it. It takes lots of practice. My coaches have helped me so much.”
At the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association Invitational on Saturday at the Reggie Lewis Center, Ajama finished first in the high jump and tied Brown’s indoor school record height of 6-8.
“He’s a great athlete,” said Brown. “He’s already jumped 6-10. And it’s pretty much still just his first year doing track. You can tell he’s getting better and better. He’s getting stronger. It’s nice to see how he is developing.
“I think he’s going to be great (in college). Once he gets college-level coaching, with the facilities that they have and the lifting, everything is going to change. It’s going to benefit him so much. It might be hard his first year because he won’t be used to that workload. But once his body gets acclimated to that, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi