Since graduating from Dacula in 2016, Faustine Aifuwa has learned quite a bit throughout four years of college.
Academically, that entails her work as a kinesiology/human movement major. The 6-foot-5 redshirt junior also has learned quite a bit about basketball as a member of LSU’s women’s team, and both have come in handy on the court.
However, the most important thing Aifuwa has learned about over the past four years is herself.
“Now I know the parts of the body and stuff like that, and when my body’s not feeling right, I know I need to pay attention to certain things,” said Aifuwa, a former first-team All-County selection by the Daily Post and Dacula’s career rebounding and blocked shots leader. “So I go to the trainer immediately. So what I see in class, I try to relate it to sports as much as possible.”
Aifuwa’s education in kinesiology became particularly relevant after she suffered a knee injury that led to her taking a redshirt during her true freshman season in 2016-17.
As she recovered and rehabbed from that injury, it was the education she got by watching her Tigers teammates that has had perhaps the biggest impact on her on-court career.
“When I first found out I was (going to miss) my freshman year, I was upset because I didn’t know if I was going to be a step behind,” Aifuwa said. “But I think it was really what I needed, to just kind of step back and watch how (college basketball) is, just coming from high school to college. So it definitely helped me improve my game and be ready even more coming back the next year.
“I think (I also got used to) the physicality in the SEC (over that time), especially with the bigs. It definitely got me ready. … You just don’t get that in high school. Once I got my first game in, I knew what I needed to be ready for. I got in the weight room. I got in the gym. I got better, and I was ready for any type of big that came up against me.”
Since returning to action in 2017, Aifuwa has made a steady improvement to become an even bigger force for LSU over the past three seasons.
Blocked shots have always been her forte since her days in high school, a trend that continued in college as she led the Tigers, and finished in the top 10 in the Southeastern Conference, with 44 blocks in each of her first two seasons, and she passed 100 blocks for her career in January.
In addition, she became the Tigers’ second-leading rebounder at 6.4 per game last season as a redshirt sophomore.
But the biggest step forward Aifuwa has made has been on the other end of the court.
She has seen her scoring average jump from 5.0 points per game as a redshirt freshman in 2017-18 to 8.0 points peer game this season, and her shooting percentage from the floor has skyrocketed more than five percentage points to her current 48.9 percent clip in the same time frame.
“I think to be able to create my own shot,” Aifuwa said when asked about the biggest improvement in her game since high school. “Back in high school, it was easy to shoot over people. But now, it’s like, if I’m outside the block, is there a way I can score?
“Before, like in my freshman year and sophomore year, I’d kind of kick (the ball) out and wait for a layup. But now, I can fake and use a drop step or kind of look to the other side and not just (look to score) from the block. So that’s helped me a lot.”
Her increased ability to contribute on the offensive end has also helped her form a formidable low post duo with 6-0 senior forward Ayana Mitchell.
With Aifuwa having known Mitchell for years — she’s a fellow former metro Atlanta high school standout from Salem High School in Rockdale County — already had plenty of chemistry on the court when they first arrived at LSU, and their bond has grown even stronger over the past four years.
“I kind of knew Ayana before LSU, and we’d always had conversations about where we were going to be when we were together on the court,” Aifuwa said. “(LSU) Coach Nikki (Fargas) always says that we’re the two best post players in the country. I think when she said that, we kind of took it and said, ‘We’ve really got to step up for our team.’
“On the court, we gel pretty well. I know what she’s about to do and she knows what I’m about to do. I think knowing that just helps us to win games.”
As much as Aifuwa has improved her own game throughout her college career, she has aspiration of playing professionally, whether it be in the WNBA or overseas, in the future.
But with the rest of this season and another year of college eligibility left, she knows there’s still plenty for her to learn on the college hardwood.
“One thing I’ve realized is just not to feel (too) comfortable,” Aifuwa said. “There’s going to be times that you feel like you’ve arrived, but you know that there’s a whole (higher) level to your game, and I know there’s another level I can tap into. I’ll just keep working on my (game) and try to help my team to win games.”