ATLANTA - Having played for the last two Class AAAAA state boys basketball championship teams at Norcross, Al-Farouq Aminu is used to facing high expectations.
Now that he's moved on to the collegiate level, the 2008 Daily Post Boys Player of the Year once again will have a lot expected of him - at least, from the media covering the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Aminu was an overwhelming choice among the media gathered at the ACC's Operation Basketball event Sunday at the Marriott Marquis as the conference's preseason Rookie of the Year.
The 6-foot-9, 215-pound Wake Forest freshman received 18 out of a possible 35 votes, easily outdistancing second choice Sylven Landesberg of Virginia - who was selected on four ballots.
Aminu is part of a highly touted freshman class that - combined with a veteran roster that includes LD. Williams and Harvey Hale - is a big reason Wake Forest was picked to finish third behind North Carolina and Duke in the preseason ACC media poll.
While Demon Deacons coach Dino Gaudio understands where those expectations come from - and has set the bar high for Aminu himself - he is also quick to caution that his prized freshman still has a long way to go, though he admits he is looking forward to the ride.
"Al-Farouq is a very talented, multi-dimensional player," Gaudio said. "He can play inside, he can play out(side). He needs to get a little stronger, and I don't want to canonize this recruiting class or each of its individuals. He's a terrific, talented young man that has been in 10 days, just a pleasure to coach. He looks at you. He listens. He's attentive and a very coachable young man. He came from a very good high school program (at Norcross) obviously ... and has come in very well prepared."
With such big talent and high expectations come a lot of responsibility, something Aminu will be thrown into immediately. But he has instilled so much confidence that he will be able to handle banging with the big men on the low block in the ACC that it has allowed 6-foot-4 junior L.D. Williams to see more time at his natural position out on the perimeter.
"Farouq is going to create a lot of matchup problems," said Williams, who averaged 8.9 points and 3.8 rebounds for Wake Forest last season. "He's definitely one of the better players I've played with. He's got a lot of intangibles. A lot of things he does, you can't teach. Coming in has a freshman highly rated ... he's really coming out of his shell."
Aminu might not be the only former Gwinnett county prep player - or even only former Norcross standout - to make his mark in the ACC this season.
Former Blue Devils teammates Gani Lawal and Jordan DeMercy are expected to make bigger contributions as sophomores for Georgia Tech and Florida State, respectively.
Lawal made a big impact for the Yellow Jackets by starting 25 of Tech's 32 games last season, averaging 7.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game and leading the team with 32 blocked shots.
While Tech coach Paul Hewitt is expecting the 2007 Daily Post Boys Player of the Year to take his game to a higher level, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton is looking for just as big a jump from DeMercy.
The 6-7, 208-pound wing had a tough time adjusting to the college game last year, averaging only 1.4 points and 1.5 board per game and struggling much of the season with a sore wrist. However, Hamilton saw signs of DeMercy gaining confidence as the season went along, especially in a five-point outing to help the Seminoles beat Tech on his return to Atlanta. He is hopeful that progress will continue.
"Jordan's probably one of our most improved players," Hamilton said. "He's made the jump from a freshman to a sophomore that you like to see. ... Sometimes when you come in as a freshman, the intensity, the pace at practice, the wear and tear and the mental part of the learning (process) ... can be somewhat overwhelming. He's made the adjustment, and he's almost like a totally different player. He's more relaxed, and I think his play will be reflected in that."
Meanwhile, Clemson coach Oliver Purnell is hopeful Tanner Smith will make the adjustment from high school to college quickly - so much so that he is planning on having the former Wesleyan star see a lot of action from the start - especially with staring point guard Andre Young battling an early hamstring injury.
"He's very definitely not redshirting," Purnell said of the 6-5 freshman guard. "I'd love for him to play for us because that gives us some depth. He's like most freshmen at this point after only a week and a half of practice. He's finding his way defensively, but he's got a high basketball IQ, which will make us better.
"One of the things we like about him is his versatility. He's somebody we can kind of plug in at three positions if we need to."
While fans can see Lawal play all season at Tech, Aminu, DeMercy and Smith also will make appearances in Atlanta this season.
Aminu and Wake Forest comes to play Tech on Jan. 31, 2009, while Smith and Clemson visit Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 22, 2009. While Florida State's only game of the season against Tech is in Tallahassee, Fla., DeMercy and the Seminoles will be in town Dec. 13 to take on Georgia State at the GSU Sports Arena.