The journey to DI basketball is like tightrope walking across a set of buildings.
One mistake, and you miss your shot.
Hakeem Animashaun is one of those players that saw his shot fade away.
During his sophomore year playing basketball for Dedham High, Animashaun wanted to transfer out of Massachusetts.
“I always felt Massachusetts wasn’t a great state for basketball,” Animashaun said. “I decided to stay because I grew up with my teammates and I wanted to play with those guys.”
Because the school never had highlights for him, Animashaun and a coach he was working with devised a plan.
The coach had gotten him a DI look and a few DII, so the plan was to play one year at Salem State, gather highlights from that season, and then send the film to a D1 school and transfer.
Instead, his first year started in a rocky way and he left the program after seven games.
He then transferred to John Jay college, another DIII school in New York to get film.
Right away, he told the head coach that he planned to leave after one year and transfer to a DI school.
“What I didn’t know was that honest is the worst thing you can be with a majority of coaches,” Animashaun said.
After beginning his time at John Jay averaging 30 points a game, he began to see the court less and less, which kept his name from being seen by DI colleges.
Two months into the season, Animashaun played just 13 minutes on January 22, and was still able to dump in 17 points. From there, he never saw the court again. John Jay’s season ended on March 4.
“Through everything I stayed because I hate quitting. But it went too far when they asked one of my best friends on the team to spy on me and report back which DI school I would be transferring to so they could blackball me,” Animashaun said. “They didn’t play me the rest of the year and I told them I was done at the end. I got a DI spot on a team and right when I was going to transfer the coach was fired.”
After missing his final window to play DI, Animashaun didn’t pack his shoes and quit the game.
Instead, he returned to Salem State.
His passion for the sport began further back when he was a kid and watched basketball with his dad. He looked up to players like Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley.
Once he reached middle school, his basketball coach – who he calls Coach Clifford – drove him to every game and made sure that he gave it his all.
“He made it possible for me to want to be better,” Animashaun said. “He helped shape my mentality.”
Later, he tore up the court at Dedham High, where he racked up double-doubles and shined defensively.
“He was a rebounding machine, he altered shots defensively and scored in the paint,” Dedham High coach Chris Fraioli said. “Hakeem was stubborn, which is what made him such a dominating high school player.”
During his time there, Animashaun became only the fourth player in program history to score 1,000-points, despite playing behind a few players in each of his first two years.
“When I reached my thousandth point, it was anticlimactic because I wanted more,” Animashaun said. “I always felt that my game was restricted.”
He then left for Salem State.
After a complicated first two years of college ball, Animashaun took the hardwood in a Vikings jersey for his junior year.
In that season, the 6′ 7″ forward dropped 21 points per game on a conference-high 63.8% shooting, crashed the boards for a conference-high 11.3 rebounds a game and had a conference-high 1.8 blocks per game. This earned him a spot on the MASCAC All-Conference First Team.
But that was nothing compared to his performance this past year.
In his senior season, Animashaun blew out the competition, leading the MASCAC Conference in total points (631), points per game (23.4), total rebounds (338), offensive rebounds (118), defensive rebounds (220), rebounds per game (12.5) and blocks (70). He also was second in field goal percentage (60.1).
Animashaun finished second in the nation in double-doubles with 22 as well.
He was named MASCAC Conference Player of the Year, joined the All-Conference First Team for the second-straight season, was named to the D3hoops.com third team and the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-Northeast District Second Team.
Animashaun scored his 1,000th career point at Salem State early into his senior year, and finished with 1,214 in total. With all of the complications he faced in college, it only took him two seasons with the Vikings to top 1,000 points.
“Despite the struggles, Hakeem left his mark on our program.” Salem State coach Chris Harvey said.
Counting his time at John Jay, Animashaun tallied 1,457 career points in college. He put together 260 points in his first two college seasons, and then drove his way to 1,197 in the final two.
“My improvement was just to stop feeling sorry for myself. I’ve had coaches my whole life try and hold me back. A DI school would call and he’d be told to not take me because I’m a bad kid. But I can’t be sad about it, it’s life,” Animashaun said. “In the weight room I’ll give my all, but on the court it’s hard to knowing you’re not where you want to be. My teammates helped me with that, because it allowed me to play for them.”
Animashaun wrapped up his college basketball career in the MASCAC Semifinals, where he and the Vikings fell to top-seeded Westfield State.
Despite all he faced, the Dedhman product fought to the end.
“I’m happy I was able to play with my guys and with my coaches one last time. They were the most upfront coaches I’ve had in my life not counting Coach Clifford,” Animashaun said. “Thanks to everyone who coached the right way, and to my teammates.”