Friday, January 17, 2014

FEATURE >> North Pulaski Falcon takes flight with U.S. Air Force Academy

By Airman 1st Class Cliffton Dolezal
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

In a small high school gym surrounded by his classmates and the humming of C-130 engines overhead, a young man shoots for his dreams of playing Division I basketball.

Wearing a white uniform with maroon lettering, gold stripes that run down the side stitching of his shorts and standing in the hallway before entering the gym on game day, Joseph Aikens, a 6-foot-4-inch, 160-pound point guard simply describes the feeling before taking the court as, “breathtaking.”

Joseph, a senior from North Pulaski High School, has dreamed of playing basketball his whole life. He now has the opportunity to live out those dreams as well as follow in his father’s military footsteps when he attends the Air Force Academy as a basketball recruit later this year.

“I remember screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘The basketball belongs outside, not inside!’ because he would just dribble the ball around the house when he was little,” said Lourdes Aikens, Joseph’s stepmother. “He would even use my laundry basket as a hoop,” she said.

Joseph’s father, James Aikens, a former Air Force master sergeant who retired from Little Rock Air Force Base in 2000, said that he always played basketball with his boys when they were younger. 

“My dad got me into basketball,” Joseph said. “He was always coaching me and shooting with me in the gym from when I was younger to now. That’s just how it’s been.” 

Joseph was hooked from that first moment of shooting hoops with his dad in the driveway, but that’s not the only common interest that they shared. Joseph and his father also have a mutual admiration for aircraft. Joseph was given an early Christmas present last year, the opportunity to fly. Joseph received a flight out of North Little Rock Airport as a co-pilot.

“I have always wanted to be a pilot; growing up around Air Force bases may have had something to do with that, but it has always been a dream of mine,” said Joseph. “The flight was just to Maumelle, Ark., and back, but it was a blast.”

Taking every opportunity to accomplish his dreams, Joseph went the distance to better himself as a basketball player.

Joseph attended every basketball camp that was offered in the area. Determined to seize every opportunity that he was given to be on the court he participated in every Amateur Athletic Union tournament that he was able to attend.

“We’ve traveled all the way from Florida to Colorado and everywhere in between, attending camps and tournaments so that Joseph would have the best opportunity to play Division I basketball,” said James.

Joseph was making a name for himself, and it wasn’t too long before he was becoming recognized for his abilities. 

“Joseph was in the 10th grade when an Air Force Academy scout noticed him at a local tournament in Little Rock and contacted us through his coach at the time to express their interest in having Joseph participate in their summer camp,” said James.

James said that Joseph was one of the best players that attended camp that summer. The day after he returned home from Colorado, the Academy’s coaches were calling and expressing sincere interest in the possibility of Joseph playing for the Air Force Academy.

“I never thought that they would call me,” said Joseph.

Joseph and his father had many thorough conversations about the available options for his future with the upcoming signing day closing in fast. Several colleges were eager to have Joseph be a part of their athletic programs including Division I universities such as: the University of Utah, Texas A&M University, and The U.S. Naval Academy, as well as local Division II colleges like Arkansas Tech and Lyon College. Joseph was immediately drawn to the opportunity of attending the Air Force Academy.

“My dad gave me the pros and cons of the military life, but he also encouraged me to make my own decision,” said Joseph.
On Nov. 15, the 6-foot-4-inch guard from North Pulaski High School, made a verbal commitment in front of his peers to attend The United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he would begin his college basketball career.

“I think I was just as excited as he was when I found out that he chose to go to the Air Force Academy,” said Roy Jackson, head coach of the North Pulaski Falcons. “I think he made the right decision and the Academy would be a good fit for him. It has been a great opportunity to coach him over the last two years.”

Aikens averaged 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists last season while shooting 50 percent from the field-numbers the Academy hopes he keeps producing during his four-year stay in Colorado.

“Even though he has been out for a few games this season with an ankle injury, he has been at every practice and every game while encouraging his teammates and being a very vocal leader, which shows a lot of character,” said Jackson. 

When Joseph reports to Colorado Springs later this summer he looks to carry out a family tradition of service as well as creating a basketball legacy of his own.

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