Faustine Aifuwa’s spent the last year recovering from a torn ACL.
Not the physical recovery. Although that wasn’t easy, either, essentially having to learn how to run again before she could think of stepping back on a court.
But more than her knee, Aifuwa’s confidence needed the most rehabilitation.
Adjusting to college is hard enough for a true freshman, but a season-ending injury almost as soon as she reached campus was devastating.
Almost 12 months later, Aifuwa is just now starting to feel like herself again.
And with LSU (9-3) opening its SEC road slate at No. 16 Missouri (13-1) on Wednesday, it couldn’t come at a better time.
“My teammates have really been helping me,” Aifuwa said. “During practice I didn’t really play like myself. I wasn’t really finishing my shots. My post moves weren’t there.
“But they kept picking me up, and when they did that, I realized I could bring something new to the table for the team and help them with so many things on offense and defense.”
Over the past few weeks, Aifuwa started showing some of the potential that led coach Nikki Fargas to make the bold prediction the post player could be an all-time great at LSU, maybe even a first-round draft pick.
Fargas compared 6-foot-4 Aifuwa to former LSU great and reigning WNBA MVP Sylvia Fowles (6-6).
“When you look at the size, you’ve got a (6-5) young lady that’s athletic, that can jump, has great hands, she can finish around the rim, she’s also showcasing she can be a defensive shot blocker and our board play increases on both sides of the basketball,” Fargas said. “We haven’t had a big of her athleticism and size probably since Sylvia. She definitely has the potential to be really good.”
Aifuwa looks improved the past few weeks as her shots are starting to fall and her long frame contests every rebound and shot.
In the past two outings she produced 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks. She’s ranks No. 7 in the SEC with 20 total blocks.
But if she wants to reach star status, Fargas said improvements must come.
“It goes back to how hard you’re going to work on your craft, on your game and can you make that a habit that every day you come in and you’re trying to improve,” Fargas said. “And then we can start adding layers to her package.
“Right now, it’s more inside, more physical post presence. But she has such a nice touch with the basketball we can start expanding her, putting her in some pick-and-pops, more of her face-up game along with power game.”
Until she takes the next step, Aifuwa is cemented into the sixth-man role, a position she welcomes.
When Fargas goes to a bigger lineup, Aifuwa is usually the first player off the bench, pairing nicely with starter Ayana Mitchell or true freshman Raven Farley.
“I like (the sixth-man role),” Aifuwa said. “It’s a big responsibility. They expect a lot out of me offensively and defensively, and I feel I’m taking that role pretty well. I don’t mind being the sixth man at all.”