Akok Akok’s UConn men’s basketball career started early and will end early: ‘It’s all about opportunity’

He arrived at Storrs about six months earlier, signing up in January 2019 to train (but not play) with the UConn men’s basketball team.

His desire to be a Husky could not be contained the following winter when his playing career began – sprinting across the ground like Usain Bolt while others jog, the megawatt smile spreading across his face instantly making him a fan favorite.

Now Akok Akok’s career at UConn will also end early.

Last week, the 6-foot-9 junior forward announced he was entering the NCAA transfer portal. With no guarantee that he would play more (and possibly less) than the 14 minutes per game he averaged last season, Akok is looking for greener pastures.

“He needed a better opportunity,” said Vin Pastore, who coached Akok with the Mass Rivals AAU team and helped him through the transfer process. “He felt perfectly comfortable playing at UConn this coming year, but not the opportunity he’s looking for at this point.”

Akok started last season with fairly consistent playing time, starting a handful of games. But it became clear in the final six weeks of the season that the staff simply did not trust him to play major minutes or in big spots. Down the line, Akok could appear midway through the first half, block a shot, hit a jumper, miss a defensive mission and/or get beaten for a rebound. He would come back to the bench after maybe five or six minutes, often only to not come back at all.

And that is if he played at all. Akok did not play in any of UConn’s Big East Tournament games and saw only three minutes of action in the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament loss to New Mexico State.

“I think in his mind he loved school, he loved his teammates a lot, had good relationships and was optimistic,” Pastore added. “But at the end of the day he wasn’t sure what his role would be. It’s a matter of opportunity.

There was no more popular UConn men’s basketball player than Akok Akok in winter 2020, as the energetic freshman blocked shots, grabbed rebounds, hit a few 3-pointers and sprinted into the hearts of fans. of Huskies.

That all changed in the first minute of a game against Memphis in Hartford on February 16, 2020. Akok blocked a shot from Precious Achiuwa, but landed awkwardly on his left leg and collapsed to the ground in pain.

It was a torn Achilles tendon. Akok Akok’s UConn career would never be the same.

He endured grueling rehab work — at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — that spring and summer and triumphantly returned to the ground less than a year later on Jan. 9, 2021 at Butler. But he only played seven games that season, and his minutes were scarce again last season.

Still, just weeks ago, Pastore told Hearst Connecticut Media he thinks Akok will hold his own at Storrs.

“I think he was going through the scripts,” Pastore said Monday. “Staying was an option I thought he would choose. Ultimately, the dream of anyone who plays at UConn or the Big East is to play as a professional, whether in the NBA or overseas. It’s all about timing, all the gym work is fine, but you don’t get back to the shape you were in without a few minutes.

UConn coach Dan Hurley barely fought back tears at the press conference following that Memphis game two years ago. It was a similar situation when Akok recently informed Hurley of his intention to transfer.

“Some exit conversations are brief and some are emotional,” Hurley told reporters last week. “It was emotional for me. His growth as a young man, since he came on campus, has been just amazing in terms of growing as a person, how more mature and prepared he is for the next part of his career. That one struck me.

Still, as much as Hurley tried to balance Akok’s eagerness to get back to the ground with his willpower, he wanted Akok to beat an injury that’s sometimes a death sentence in basketball, ultimately. , Hurley’s job is to win games. That means going with the players he feels are best suited for the job.

And so, Akok is now finishing his semester at UConn while looking to get into a program that needs a four-man player who can play on the perimeter and make 3-pointers.

“Which he’s pretty good at,” Pastore noted, “as his stats at UConn showed last year.”

Indeed, Akok was UConn’s best 3-point shooter this season – albeit in a very small sample. He hit 13 of 28 treys at a 46.4% clip.

Currently, Akok plans to visit three schools – Georgetown, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. In fact, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, the future Hall of Fame inductee, was supposed to have visited Akok on Monday in Storrs for lunch. Georgetown and Pittsburgh were among Akok’s top suitors three years ago, before he chose UConn. Many other schools also called.

“He is well placed,” promised Pastore.

All three programs require four-way stretches. Akok, a resident of Manchester, New Hampshire, would prefer to play a bit closer to home, but the overall “fit” of a program trumps everything, according to Pastore.

At some point it appeared that Akok Akok and UConn were the perfect fit. And for a while they were.

But not anymore. It is a matter of opportunity, after all.

“He enjoyed his time at UConn,” Pastore added. “He’s a good boy, and I think most people would like to see him do well.”

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