It would be easy to write off Simi Fajemisin as a bust in college. He was a McDonald’s All-American nominee and was the #39 ranked center in the country according to ESPN coming out of high school, and his career numbers never came close to matching that hype. But to focus on his inability to match his hype when he arrived at San Diego is to ignore the role he was able to fill, and how important it was for a team that desperately needed the size and power he brought to the roster.
Fajemisin is built like an intimidating center, and was one of the biggest players on the roster his entire career. While he never became an impact big man like the one that averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds playing for Lynwood High School in Washington, but he was still able to influence games at the college level. The Toreros, like many smaller programs, have long had difficulty bringing in prominent big men. Talented and tall players are in short supply, and there are rarely enough for any to slip through the cracks and reach smaller schools.
As a result, smaller teams like the Toreros focus on bringing in quality guards. The skill set of a guard is less tied to their physical traits, meaning a guard can become a quality player despite their size or athleticism. So not surprisingly, Fajemisin arrived to a Toreros team built heavily around guards. He was expected to become a centerpiece of the frontcourt to complement those guards, but got lost in the shuffle. The offense centered around emerging stars Johnny Dee and Chris Anderson, while Dennis Kramer became the star post player complemented by excellent defense by Jito Kok. It left no room for Fajemisin to find significant minutes.
Despite all that, Fajemisin played a key role. After reshirting his first season, he went on to become a key bench player appearing in virtually every game during the four years he was active. Often those appearances were only a few minutes during the course of a game and he never averaged more than a couple points and rebounds per game, but they were more important than the stats indicate.
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Because of the need to focus on guard play, the Toreros were dangerously thin in the post. Beyond Kramer and Kok, Fajemisin was really the only other line of defense between the Toreros being totally helpless against bigger opponents. Fajemisin could come in and give the other big men a rest while doing enough to slow down the opposing frontcourt so the Toreros were not overwhelmed. Sometimes you need a bruiser, a big body that can slow the opponent down. When Kramer and Kok needed a rest, that job fell to Fajemisin.
It certainly would have been nice if Fajemisin could have done more, and his stats and accolades coming out of high school suggest he should have been able to do that. But he still found a way to be valuable, and the Toreros could have been a lot more overmatched at times without him. Fans should be thankful for his hard work and the role he played, because it came without much attention despite being important.