A.J. Merriweather didn’t understand at first.
Growing up in Medon, Tenn., a small country suburb located just south of Jackson, a young A.J. dreaded the early morning wakeup calls from his parents – because he knew he was going to work. His father, Albert, owned his own concrete mixing and construction company, and that meant the younger Merriweather was expected to be part of the family business, spending a good number of his childhood days on a work site.
“He made me go to work and I think it’s what made me who I am today. It built my character,” Merriweather said when recalling those sweltering southern days in his hometown. “My dad was the boss and that meant I couldn’t stop or seem like I was taking it easy. I was out there constantly standing and pulling and working. I’ll never forget how hot it was and all the sweat, but I think that’s what gave me that drive.”
That “drive” has been evident to ETSU men’s basketball fans as they have watched Merriweather play the game over the last two years. Entering his junior year, the 6-foot-3 guard has become a fan favorite with a reputation as a tenacious defender, a potent offensive threat, a high-flying leaper, and a likeable teammate.
New head coach Steve Forbes certainly became a fan of Merriweather quickly.
“I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to coach and mentor A.J.,” Forbes said. “He is everything a coach would want in a player and more. I’ve leaned on him since my first day on the job and I will continue to lean on him until the day he graduates. A.J. will be a success at whatever he decides to do beyond basketball due to his work ethic and values.”
Beyond the inner motivation that his father and mother Mitiz fostered, the love and support Merriweather found at home back in Medon also taught him the value of family.
“It’s all about loyalty and dedication,” Merriweather said. “Family is extremely important to me, and even here with my teammates – this is my home away from home. We aren’t just teammates on the court, we are friends away from the court and that means a lot. We all come from different backgrounds, and for me, I want to know their stories and it reminds me how blessed I have been to be in college and play basketball at ETSU.”
That appreciation is obvious on the court, as Merriweather is a player who shows his joy for the game by the way he plays it. Often flashing a wide smile, he’s regularly unable to contain the enjoyment and emotions he derives from the game itself.
“People say I play hard, but I don’t see it that way. It’s just me and how I do it,” said Merriweather, who after two seasons at ETSU is averaging 10 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes a game. “I’m not like trying 110 percent or trying harder. I’m just doing it.”
Ironically, it wasn’t long ago that Merriweather thought he might give up on the game.
“I remember telling my best friend and teammate in high school that I didn’t think the game was for me,” Merriweather said. “He told me I was crazy. That changed how I felt about my abilities. It made me believe because someone else believed in me. Now I feel like every game I go out there I can guard anybody and I try every game to lay it on the line.”
Today, Merriweather is glad he stuck with basketball. With new head coach, a new assistant coaching staff, and several fresh faces on the bench, Merriweather said there is certainly a sense of a bright future for the Buccaneers’ program.
“It’s been tough and Coach Forbes is really pushing us … even to the point I’ve thought I had hit the wall, but that’s when you have to push through,” Merriweather said. “There’s a huge feeling of excitement on the team. We are all pushing and working. We want to do whatever it takes to win and give our fans something to be proud of this year.”
But beyond the success of the team, Merriweather said the real blessing is receiving a college education. He is majoring in construction engineering at ETSU, and his goal is to return to Medon and work in the family business alongside his father.
All of those goals and dreams are blossoming thanks to his opportunity to earn a scholarship and to be a student-athlete at ETSU.
“The academics here and the support we receive has been a real blessing,” Merriweather said. “It’s an honor to have this opportunity and to represent this school.
“I understand that and I’m grateful for it.”
By MICHAEL WHITE
ETSU Associate AD for Communications