Despite what seemed to be long odds, Andover’s Zayn Aruri never gave up on his basketball dream.
When he was one of the final players selected for the Andover High freshman basketball team three years ago, he could have been discouraged. Instead, his focus only intensified.
As a sophomore, when Aruri found himself as a backup on the JV team, struggling for playing time, he could have been overcome by frustration. Instead, he only worked harder.
Then, when he made the varsity team last winter, but was at the end of the bench as a reserve for nearly the entire season, he could have been disappointed. Instead, he did everything he could to prove he deserved his shot.
“I never, never thought about giving up,” said Aruri. “I just kept playing and working every day. I worked on my shot, improved my game, kept learning, and when I got my shot I took it.”
That persistence has paid off in a big way for both Aruri and the Golden Warriors.
After a surprise breakout at the end of last winter, Aruri has emerged as a go-to starting guard and tri-captain for Andover, which entered the week with a perfect 8-0 record.
“Zayn epitomizes what ever coach dreams of,” said Golden Warriors head coach Dave Fazio. “I never imagined he would be a key part of his program. He barely made the freshman team. But he’s hard-working, dedicated and earned his shot. In this day-and-age, when so many athletes think their life is over when they don’t make the varsity team as a freshman, Zayn never gave up and earned his shot.”
Last Wednesday, Aruri scored a career-best 18 points, including four 3-pointers, in a win over Billerica.
“This has been quite a journey!” said Aruri. “There have been a lot of ups and downs. I never expected to be a starter and captain. To be where I am now is really a proud feeling. To go from one of the last guys on the freshman team to starter on one of the best teams in the state is amazing.”
DREAMING, TOUGH START
Growing up in Andover, Aruri dreamed of playing basketball for Fazio and the Golden Warriors.
“I was going to Andover basketball games from the time I could walk,” said Aruri. “My dad would bring me to games all the time, and I loved it. They had some great teams. I loved watching guys like David Giribaldi. And coach Faz has been there for so many years. I loved watching the games and being a part of them.”
But chasing that dream would prove a challenge when he entered high school.
“I knew I was right on the line to make the team during (freshman team) tryouts,” he said. “I didn’t have big expectations, but about 40 kids were cut and I made the team, so I was happy to make it. But it was tough at times.”
As a sophomore, he made the JV team, but saw limited playing time.
“I wasn’t getting on the court a lot,” he said. “I was at the end of the bench. When I got in, I thought I played well, but there were a lot of guys ahead of me. We had kids coming down from the varsity team, and that was tough. But they were also my friends.”
After an impressive summer league season, Aruri made the Andover varsity team as a junior.
But, admitted Fazio, for most of the season, “I didn’t even consider putting him into games.”
While at the end of the bench, Aruri kept himself busy learning and helping out.
“I did everything I could to be the best teammate I could be,” he said. “I cheered, carried bags and water bottles and learned a lot from guys like Kyle Rocker and Michael Slayton. I stayed ready to go when I got my chance, but it took a while.”
That chance finally arrived when Aruri scored four points in a matchup with MVC rival Lawrence.
“The Lawrence game was the first I got big minutes,” he said. “I hit a shot and had a couple steals. Then my minutes started to increase. We played Lawrence again, I really showed up (six points) and earned a spot in the starting lineup.
“I was really nervous at first. I never really thought I would be a starter at some point. It was a big moment. I felt like my hard work really paid off.”
Aruri junior season, unfortunately, was cut short in the state tournament due to a hyperextended knee. But her returned with a bang this winter.
Now an established starter and captain, Aruri opened this winter with a pair of nine point performances in wins over Central Catholic. His breakout day was 18 points in a win over Chelmsford. He added 10 points on Saturday.
He now hopes to keep Andover unbeaten as the Golden Warriors head into the final weeks of the season.
“It’s really tough to not have a state tournament,” he said. “We think about it all the time. Being senior year, we felt like this was our year to make a run. It’s tough to lose the tournament because of how good we are, but our mindset doesn’t change. We still want to every game.”
After basketball wraps up, Andover’s Zayn Aruri will turn his attention to football, in “Fall 2.”
Aruri saw varsity time as a defensive back last fall. He made three tackles in a win over Methuen High.
“It’s going to be an exciting football season,” said Aruri, whose sister Leila Aruri ran cross country and track at Andover High and UMass Amherst. “I really liked the team we had last year, and we have really good players back this year, guys like Scotty (Brown) and Lincoln Beal.”