A college campus can be a lonely place over a holiday break. Toss in a pandemic and you might have a condition that amounts to desolation.
But in the hands of San Marino High School graduate Chuma Azinge, that which seems impossible can be accomplished and what appears to be a dark winter’s day is instead an interminably sunny day.
After all, Azinge is living a dream. Last year, the local gym rat found himself playing Division 1 college basketball for a team coached by one of the more recognizable names in the history of the sport — “Georgetown” and “Patrick Ewing,” to be more precise. And just like that, a young man has magically transported from the Rio Hondo League to the legendary Big East Conference.
If it sounds as though Azinge just clicked the heels of his Michael Jordan Jumpmans, recited the word “Hoya” and ended up on one of basketball’s biggest stages, well that simply isn’t the case. Now a rippling 6 feet 3 inches tall and 185 pounds of lean muscle, Azinge barely resembles the kid who used to wear the number 0 in the Titan blue and white, though his mannerisms bear a keen familiarity to the 2018 graduate. As a junior, Azinge helped San Marino advance to its first CIF-SS quarterfinal since 1978. He tallied 11 points and seven rebounds in the first round and added eight points and six boards in the second round as San Marino advanced to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section 4AA playoffs.
During his senior year, Azinge averaged 17.9 points per game for the Titans while hauling down seven rebounds per contest, with two steals and three assists per league contest. For his efforts,
Azinge was a 1st team all-Rio Hondo League selection, capping an excellent high school career which he played under the direction of Coach Mihail Papadopulos.
Azinge opted for a postgraduate year at Choate Rosemary Hall, a college preparatory school in Wallingford, Connecticut. There, he was named honorable mention by the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council. He also drew the attention of the Georgetown Hoyas, one of the most iconic brands in the college basketball business, with his remarkable quickness and stellar defense.
The Hoyas’ coach, 7-foot Ewing, played center for Georgetown for four years — three of which found the Hoyas in the NCAA championship game. In 2008, Ewing was named the 16th-greatest college basketball player of all time by ESPN.
Last season, Azinge appeared in five games, making his collegiate debut against University of Maryland, Baltimore County. On March 4, 2020, Azinge made one of two free throws to notch his first career point in a game against Creighton, who at the time was ranked #11 in the nation. Azinge has yet to make an appearance in 2020-21 for the Hoyas, who are 3-6 following a 64-60 loss to Marquette on January 2.
“It’s been interesting,” said Azinge. “It’s very tough being on campus with just teammates and staff at break and throughout the semester. But I am learning to love the time to reflect and relax, though.”
“Relax” might be a foreign concept to Azinge, who is studying in Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. While at SMHS, Azinge also excelled at track and field. At the 2017 Rio Hondo League finals, Azinge won three individual championships, while qualifying for the CIF preliminaries in a total of four events. Azinge won the 110-meter high hurdles in 15.6 seconds; soared 44 feet 4 inches in the triple jump for another crown and cleared 6 feet in the high jump for a third. In the final event of the competition, he teamed with Brian Byrne, Wilson Lin and Jonathan Mak to take third place in the 4-by-100-meter relay in 44.69 and earn yet another berth at CIF.
While at Choate Rosemary Hall, Azinge smashed school records, soaring 47 feet 11 inches in the triple jump and sauntering through the 110-meter high hurdles in just 14:10. The old marks were 46 feet 9 inches and 15:04, respectively.
But these days Azinge’s focus is solely on hoops.
“Personally, I haven’t played this year, but we’ve got a much larger roster than we did last year,” Azinge said. “School-wise, it’s been a great challenge. I enjoy the concept of school from home, but it’s a lot more work that we would typically see, that’s for sure. Overall I’m happy. My family has been safe and I haven’t experienced any serious complications since being on campus. I’m definitely glad to be able to say that.”