Posted On: 12/4/18 5:24 PM

It seems like more than ever, we are seeing freshmen come onto the varsity scene and big impact player for their respective schools. Last year, Gaithersburg had two of them in Jao Ituka and Jordan Hawkins. The dynamic duo helped lead the Trojans to the final four of the 4A state tournament. They came up short against the eventual champion Perry Hall Gators, but they didn’t go out without a fight and without previewing what was to come for the next three years.


“The experience I gained was great,” Ituka told Prep Hoops as he reflected on his freshman season. “I had the opportunity to play against tough competition and some of the best players in the state. I was able to be a part of a great team that won the regional championship. We came up a little short against Perry Hall, but I’m going to take everything that I learned and carry it over into this year as a leader. I’m going to make sure I’m a big piece in helping the guys grow. We are a very young team, so we’re going to grow together and improve every single day until we bring a state championship back to our school.”


Gaithersburg had three seniors next to Ituka and Hawkins in the starting lineup last year. This season, there are only four seniors on the entire roster. While Ituka and Hawkins are impact players, this sport is a team sport. Ituka seems to realize that.


“It’s going to be a learning experience,” Ituka said. “The younger guys are going to grow with us as a team and our coach. As a leader, I just have to be sure I’m pushing everyone every day in practice to make sure we are prepared when game time comes around. We have to make sure we get on each other every time one of us makes a mistake, but also be there to lift each of us up when they need it.”


Ituka is a downhill driver with the ball. He showed plenty of explosive plays last season that included multiple poster dunks over defenders. Those high-flying finishes will get most of the attention, but Ituka is an extremely hard worker on the defensive end as well. Overall, he competes in every aspect of the game and that’s what makes him so fun to watch.


“I’m working on improving my jump shot,” Ituka continued, “also my decision-making and ball handling. Pretty much everything. Even if I think I do something well, I feel like I have to improve because I know there are guys out there that can do it better than me. Doing the little things like advancing the ball up the floor even when I think I can dribble it up and make a play myself. I just have to trust in my game and know that I’ll make the right decisions for the team.”


Offensively, Ituka is most dangerous when he is creating off the dribble. While his jumper isn’t necessarily a strength, defenses can’t afford to leave him open from three or mid-range. When I saw Ituka recently at a scrimmage, it was obvious he was trying to work the jumper more often into his repertoire. He has good lift and form on his shot. All he needs is time and reps in the gym for it to become consistent.


Ituka and Hawkins complement each other’s games nicely. Ituka is more of a bull dozing slasher and Hawkins is a 6-foot-5 sniper. When I watch them, I see a comparison of the Washington Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal. I can confirm though, that these two get along better than Wall and Beal.


“Our relationship is great,” Ituka claimed. “We both are accepting of the leadership mentality and we were already in a program called “Lead ‘Em Up,” which helped us learn how to lead, how to talk to our teammates effectively and allowed us to get closer as brothers. Even though we both think we do things right, we always need to stay on each other and hold high standards.”


Ituka holds one offer currently from South Alabama. There are a bunch of schools in the mix for Ituka who have high interest. The 6-foot-1 guard had a brilliant answer when asked about his recruitment:


“In time, more schools will offer me. That’s one thing I don’t try to look at as much. I say this because it’s just me. Having an offer to go to college for free is very humbling and it’s God given. I just want a lot of guys to understand that if you know the level of player you are, you know your skill and how much you’re going to work, just know that you will go to college. That’s one thing I told myself, offers are great and I’m very humbled, but I know that either way, I’m going to work and keep getting better every day.”