Eli Farrakhan was told he might not touch the floor at a Division-I program. Now, he’s on scholarship at Wichita State

“When I first got here, I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to do this again?”

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Eli Farrakhan was told he might not touch the floor at a Division-I program. Now, he’s on scholarship at Wichita State

Wichita State junior Eli Farrakhan takes a shot during their game against the University of Oklahoma at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City on Dec. 8, 2018.

Wichita State junior Eli Farrakhan takes a shot during their game against the University of Oklahoma at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City on Dec. 8, 2018.

Joseph Barringhaus

Wichita State junior Eli Farrakhan takes a shot during their game against the University of Oklahoma at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City on Dec. 8, 2018.

Joseph Barringhaus

Joseph Barringhaus

Wichita State junior Eli Farrakhan takes a shot during their game against the University of Oklahoma at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City on Dec. 8, 2018.

Eli Farrakhan didn’t have options for where he’d play college basketball.

At 5-foot-11 and a slender 165 pounds, the Division-I hopeful didn’t attract much buzz. His stats over a quick two years at a Florida community college weren’t commanding a slew of Division-I offers. But Farrakhan isn’t one to settle.

Even when a past coach told him he “might not touch the floor one time” at a top-level Division I program like Wichita State, Farrakhan didn’t listen.

That’s not his style.

Fast-forward to Feb. 9. WSU defeated Tulane for its fourth straight win. Players left celebrating with their families, donors piled into the Champion’s Club, and 10,000 fans left the stadium empty.

There stands Farrakhan in the corner of the court — shooting. He didn’t log a minute of action in the team’s 14-point win, but that’s an afterthought. His focus is on shots up.

Five days ago, he was a walk-on. Today, he is a select recipient of one of the team’s 13 scholarships.

The route was anything but an easy one. Farrakhan was a walk-on at East Florida State junior college, about a 20-minute drive from where he grew up in Florida. That’s where Farrakhan met now-teammate Ricky Torres.

Torres briefly was a walk-on for the school, too. Though Torres never set foot on the court, the two point guards connected.

Torres rose to junior college stardom at Missouri State-West Plans, and Farrakhan finished out his junior college career at Central Georgia Tech. In 34 games, Farrakhan gained exposure, but none from Division I programs. His six point and two assist averages weren’t flashy in the eyes of many recruiters. Those stats failed to show his work ethic.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State guard Eli Farrakhan dribbles down the court during their game against the University of Oklahoma at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City on Dec. 8, 2018.

Farrakhan turned down Division-II offers. He instead turned to Torres, a prized junior college recruit in his own right. Farrakhan had been in the walk-on role again, so why not once more?

“I knew I could play at the Division-I level,” Farrakhan said.

Torres quickly brought up Wichita State. He had just signed following the departure of Alex Lomax, a four-star recruit who was granted release from his letter of intent so he could reunite with his high school coach Penny Hardaway at Memphis.

Farrakhan followed as a late walk-on with the Shockers. If not for Torres, Farrakhan wouldn’t be a Shocker today.

At WSU, the expectations are clear. Gregg Marshall demands the world of his guards. Fred VanVleet, Landry Shamet, Ron Baker, and Toure’ Murry show the program’s overnight success stories — behind closed doors, these successes show great challenge.

That’s a lot for anyone to take in. Farrakhan joined the program with the mentality that he’d stay in his own lane and not get in the way — but that’s not the role of a point guard.

“I’m a point guard,” Farrakhan said, “and you have to become a leader as a point guard.”

Before Farrakhan could command a segment of the offense, he had to command the respect of his teammates — junior college standouts, three- and four-star recruits, guys who had options.

“Nobody is going to want to listen to you because you haven’t proved anything,” Farrakhan said. “Once I started getting more comfortable and proved that I could play, that’s what helped me become a leader.”

This was starting over again. Taking a Division-II offer would have been the simple choice. That’s the route most guys go. But Farrakhan, someone who knew the hardship of being a walk-on, took that challenge with pride and dignity.

“When I first got here, I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to do this again?” Farrakhan said, laughing.

One thing is for certain — Farrakhan never stops working on his game.

“He’s always in the gym,” Torres said. “No matter what . . . After games, it doesn’t matter.”

That’s Farrakhan’s prized work ethic talking. It’s why Farrakhan has earned the sought-after trust in his coach to run the offense. Typically, someone in his role might see action in the final minutes of a blow-out win, but that’s not the situation this season. Farrakhan has run the offense at key points of games when the team’s first rotation has been plagued with foul trouble or turnover troubles. He’s the man to settle the game down.

Trust from his teammates and his coach is a major milestone, Farrakhan said.

He said that at times, it felt like no one knew the struggles of a disrespected walk-on. Looking for inspiration, he watched “All the Way Up,” a documentary about former Heisman Baker Mayfield, who went from a walk-on at Texas Tech to among college football’s best.

“When I watched that, it told me that if he could fight through the adversity, then I could do it, too,” Farrakhan said. “When you’re a walk-on, you have to work that much harder to conquer the goals you want to conquer.”

That’s why it’s not uncommon to find Farrakhan on the court at 5 a.m. for an early start, or 2 a.m. finishing a long evening.

“I feel like I work harder than anybody,” Farrakhan said. “That’s no disrespect to my team or anybody I have ever played with, but I truly believe that 100 percent no one works harder than me.”

That’s the way it was at Florida Eastern State, Central Georgia Tech, and now Wichita State.

“I knew he was good enough to earn a Division-I scholarship, he just didn’t have the exposure he needed,” Torres said. “Everybody knows he’s the best shooter on the team — period.”

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State guard Eli Farrakhan dribbles down the court during their game against the University of Oklahoma at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City on Dec. 8, 2018.