Chicago, IL — Imagine that it’s senior year of your college basketball career. Everything you’ve ever worked for comes down to this very season to show NBA scouts that you’re worth a chance. A chance that becomes a lot smaller when the NCAA suspends you for the first fifteen games after being accused of taking improper benefits. Continue to read more of the story of AJ Rompza.
What do you do when it feels as if the NCAA is taking away your wins, your assist record and most importantly your opportunity to play in the NBA and help take care of your family?
What do you when a workout meant for NBA scouts to see what you are capable of, suddenly becomes the only opportunity once you break your foot in the middle of the workout? What do you do when it feels as if all the odds are truly against you?
By this point, most people would have given up. But this didn’t stop AJ Rompza, former starting point guard for the University of Central Florida.
As athletes, we are faced with many challenges as we strive to achieve our version of greatness. How we respond to adversity determines how we build a legacy that lives beyond the stat sheet.
Just a Kid from Chicago That Loves Basketball
Rompza, who grew up in Chicago, became widely criticized once he chose to play basketball at Whitney M. Young Magnet, one of the top high schools in the country with fellow alumni such as former First Lady Michelle Obama, rapper Vic Mensa, and Philadelphia 76er Jahlil Okafor.
“So many people get caught up in race and height,” says Rompza, who is 5’7.”
“I had a lot of people laugh at me and say I’d never make the freshman B team.”
AJ Rompza encourages fellow athletes never to allow the opinions of others to stop them from pursuing their dreams.
“I ended up starting varsity as a freshman;” Rompza says, “people were like, who is this kid holding his own against guys like Derrick Rose and Sherron Collins?”
Through life, you will come to realize that when you build your resume off of hard work and dedication, it results in proving a lot of people wrong.
Going to Disneyland
As a high school senior that had become one of the top point guards in the country, on one of the top-ranked high school teams in the state, and leading a team that would later produce seven NCAA Division I athletes such as Marcus Jordan, one would think that D1 universities would be knocking on Rompza’s door.
However, that was not the case. Critics still believed AJ was not tall enough or strong enough to be a D1 point guard. But he believed differently.
“I had my goals and dreams set on D1,” says Rompza. “I was not going to settle because I knew how hard I had worked.”
The hours of grinding, shooting thousands of baskets in the gym, and working when no one was watching, lead Rompza to an offer from the University of Central Florida.
The point guard that everyone said was “too small,” worked his way into starting lineup as a freshman, ranked Top 10 in the country in assists as a sophomore, and led his football-centered school to a basketball national ranking for the first time in the school’s history his junior year.
Rompza said those four years felt like a dream. He reminisced about how his journey started as a nobody from Chicago, to becoming a fan favorite, and feeling like a celebrity as kids across the nation began to look up to him.
Caught Up In The Lifestyle
In 2012, the NCAA claimed one of Rompza’s friends was an agent giving him improper benefits, which resulted in fifteen games of suspension his senior season.
Suddenly, the upset wins, game-winning shots, and school records became mere memories, and it seemed there was nothing Rompza could do about it.
When UCF didn’t make the NCAA tournament his senior season, Rompza turned his focus to preparing for the NBA. Initially, NBA scouts didn’t give AJ Rompza much credit, just like at every other point in his career. Eventually, Rompza earned a shot at a personal workout in front of an NBA scout. He wanted to showcase what he had been proving all of his life; that basketball was in his DNA.
Unfortunately, there was not a happy ending for Rompza. He didn’t have the best workout of his life. He didn’t impress all of the scouts and get drafted. He broke his foot in the middle of his first and only workout, temporarily putting his career on hold.
At this point in his life, it appeared all the luck had run out for Rompza.
People he believed to be his real friends didn’t stick around after his injury. The support system that the former UCF star thought he had vanished. Rompza moved back in with his mom and put his dream on hold.
“Injuries can humble you,” says Rompza. “They give you a new perspective on your life and opportunities when you least expect it.”
Life After the Game
Life after the game is one of the hardest transitions for athletes who are used to the spotlight, private jets, and thousands of fans screaming their name.
AJ Rompza is thriving through this transition with the help of his girlfriend, who was there for him, despite no longer being in the public eye. Rompza credits her for helping him transition back into normal life. He now runs Burwood Tap and Chicago Joe, both successful restaurants in Chicago, writing an autobiography, and starting what he calls “the A.J. Movement” to “push people to succeed in life.”
“You can do anything you want to if you believe in yourself,” says Rompza.
It seems unlikely that a 5’7” white point guard from Chicago would have the basketball career that Rompza did.
“I became one of the top players in the country because I worked hard,” says Rompza. “If I had listened to what people told me, I wouldn’t have even played basketball.”
If you have a dream, fight for it. Refuse to listen to critics. Be determined and don’t stop because of limitations voiced by others. Be your version of AJ Rompza. Be your version of greatness.
Share this story with an athlete you know or someone in the midst of adversity. Encourage them to keep fighting and never give up!
AJ Rompza is a former UCF Golden Knight point going that is now striving to pay it forward. He currently is a restaurant/bar owner in Chicago, where he is also a youth basketball trainer. In his upcoming book, AJ will tell all about his journey. Want to catch up with AJ Rompza and learn more about his upcoming book? Give him a follow on Instagram @arompza3.
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