Former San Marino High School basketball standout Chuma Azinge was once referred to as a “late bloomer” by head coach Mihail Papadopulos, who was always eager to watch the guard play through the years.
“I think he was just scratching the surface at San Marino,” Papadopulos said. “If you saw him now, he’s really put together and looks great after years of training.”
The hard work and decision to attend Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut as a postgraduate paid off for the former Titan, as he is now training as a member of the Georgetown men’s basketball team.
“It is surreal,” Azinge said. “It’s been a school I thought of since elementary school. For this to be happening is just crazy.”
Azinge, an All-Rio Hondo League first-team basketball athlete and a CIF Southern Section Division 3 bronze medalist in the triple jump, was accepted to the prestigious university and committed to the basketball program in May. He received a phone call from the coaching staff, including head coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, notifying him that there would be a roster spot for him.
“It’s surreal to get a phone call from a Hall of Famer,” the SMHS grad said. “It was after a school day and I had just finished homework. He called, and I didn’t know who it was at first. I was trying to recognize his voice and then I just knew. He told me what it takes to be an athlete at Georgetown and what role I will have.”
He was recruited as a slasher guard but has developed a solid jump shot. He’s expected to challenge guards on defense and attack the basket when possible.
One year at Choate made all the difference for Azinge, who made a difficult decision and opted to attend the boarding school when he didn’t receive the offers he was looking for from colleges.
“It was tough seeing all my classmates go to college before I did,” Azinge said. “Not too many people in [San Marino] know about doing a postgrad year at prep school.”
Papadopulos supported his former player’s decision and was confident he would find success at Choate.
“It was all Chuma trying to figure himself out and in pursuit of what he wanted,” Papadopulos said. “The cool thing is his parents supported it, and he just went after it and took everything he could from that experience. The word that comes to mind is he’s got a boldness to him. He was willing to take chances and take risks. He’s a fearless young man.”
The SMHS product’s intrepidity and determination soon paid off as he improved as a student and player and developed as an athlete. He began receiving offers from Cal State Northridge, Cornell and Dartmouth, but his dream school was Georgetown.
“In addition to considering those schools, I applied to Georgetown and ended up getting in,” said Azinge, who began playing basketball at Huntington Middle School. “I immediately got in contact with [Hoya] coaches to let them know I got in. They eventually gave me an opportunity.”
Azinge is currently in Washington, D.C., Georgetown’s home, to get situated and work with his teammates.
Papadopulos believes Georgetown has a “sleeper” in Azinge, a player who will surprise people and continue to improve.
“With guys like that, I think the sky’s the limit,” he said. “You can never count out a kid who has that kind of dream. He’s self-reliant and believes in himself. We all believe in his abilities. We’re obviously super proud of Chuma and proud of the work he’s put in to fulfill his dream. People don’t know, unless you’re around him, the sacrifices he made. There were days, when he was a senior, I knew he was up super late the night before, working hard for his AP classes. But he never was a kid who complained. He always did his job and did it to the best of his abilities. He did a lot for our program and inspires guys to work harder.”