As basketballs bounced in Greenwood Laboratory School’s gym, the team’s best player quietly entered through a back entrance and slowly got ready for practice.
It only took a handful of shots to see why sophomore Aminu Mohammed is a five-star recruit. The 6-foot-5 guard made long threes with ease and jumped effortlessly to dunk, leading observers to wonder how high he could get if he was putting in his whole effort.
Rated one of the top sophomores in the country, Mohammed has been a revelation at this Springfield school since transferring from Archbishop Carroll in Washington, D.C. last summer. Through 18 games, he’s averaging 34.8 points and 17.4 rebounds for the 16-3 Blue Jays, who are ranked No. 7 in the state in Missouri’s Class 2. The team won just seven games last season.
Mohammed’s move has caught the eye of numerous local college programs, including Missouri. The Tigers are poised to blow up the sophomore’s phone once coaches are able to contact him directly in June.
Originally from Nigeria, Mohammed followed his older brother, Kabir, a junior forward at Missouri State, to America and later on to Springfield. Mohammed’s guardian, Shawn Harmon, adopted the brothers, who have three more siblings overseas, after a friend connected him to Kabir when he was an assistant at National Christian Academy in Maryland, where Kevin Durant briefly played.
Kabir convinced Harmon to adopt his brother during his senior year at NCA after showing him a video of Aminu playing basketball in Nigeria. Aminu later joined them in Maryland, where he averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds a game at Carroll, going against national powerhouses such as DeMatha, Gonzaga and Paul VI.
After Kabir signed with Missouri State out of San Jacinto College in Texas, Harmon decided to relocate to Missouri to keep the brothers close together. He looked at Vashon, a state power in St. Louis, and St. Louis Christian Academy and even considered Columbia schools before settling on Greenwood.
Mohammed was limited to schools that only accept I-20 students — kids who came to the United States for an education — which are usually private. Greenwood is an extension of Missouri State and a stone’s throw away from the Bears’ JQH Arena. It’s a K-12 school that has 120 students grades nine and up and hasn’t had a Division I recruit since 2000.
“The academic situation was really intriguing for me and the ability to be close to his brother,” Harmon said. “That really worked well. This situation was going to be a great situation with the hands on learning. His parents are really big on academics.
“The basketball piece will work itself out.”
Mohammed’s video-game like numbers have enhanced his profile, as he’s had games in which he’s scored over 40 points multiple times ... and even had a 51-point game. In Greenwood’s win over Fordland on Friday, Mohammed recorded 43 points and 24 rebounds. Taylor said he’s never fielded so many calls from coaches during his time at the school.
Harmon said Mohammed currently holds offers from Florida, Seton Hall, Towson and Bryant, with interest from Louisville and Indiana. Taylor said he’s heard from Missouri, Illinois, Tulsa, Oklahoma State and Missouri State. Bears coach Dana Ford has already made the short walk from his office over to the school to catch a few games in hopes of landing his second Mohammed brother. Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin or an assistant intends to see a game soon. Harmon said they plan to head to Indiana on Feb. 9 for an unofficial visit but are generally avoiding recruiting trips in-season.
Taylor said he tweaked his offense after seeing how complete of a scorer Mohammed is. He tries to put him in situations where he can either get to the basket or find a teammate if a double-team is coming his way.
“When you have a player of his caliber, you want the ball in his hands,” Taylor said. “But he’s willing to give it up.”
Mohammed’s stats naturally bring up discussion about the competition he’s going against. As a freshman, he was regularly competing against teams that included multiple blue-chip recruits. Now he’s playing in Class 2 in Missouri, which doesn’t yield the same caliber of opponent. Mohammed’s stats have also raised questions about how his game will translate to the college level. Missouri has seen freshman guard Torrence Watson struggle this season, partly because he came from Whitfield, a Class 3 school, where he averaged over 30 points per game.
Corey Evans, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said intangibles are key when evaluating prospects in Mohammed’s situation, which is why his grassroots season will be so intriguing. Evans has seen players with stats like Mohammed’s who greatly struggled in AAU competition, while others have flourished and backed up the hype.
“Travel ball helps you connect the dots,” he said. “It gets demonized, but you’re playing against the best players. At the end of the day, how many boxes can he check and how do they translate to the next level?”
Mohammed said he’s enjoyed his time in Missouri and loves his current situation. But he also admitted he misses “going against strong players every night.” He plans to play AAU basketball for Boo Williams on the Nike EYBL circuit this summer, which will give him the chance to regularly go against the nation’s best competition.
The combo guard will worry about college when it’s closer, and although he acknowledges the competition dropoff, he likes the challenge presented to him at Greenwood. He’s the focal point of the team, and there’s something to be said for a player taking his squad to uncharted waters.
Had he stayed in Maryland, Mohammed might have been overshadowed or developed slower than he has in Springfield. At Greenwood, he’s able to take more risks with his game and be the alpha dog.
“I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do right now,” Mohammed said.