A LEAP OF FAITH

Prized re­cruit Akok com­mits to Huskies though no schol­ar­ship avail­able now

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Sports - By Dom Amore [email protected]

Akok Akok, a tall for­ward who com­bines shot-block­ing and perime­ter shoot­ing abil­i­ties, has an­nounced he will en­roll at UConn, a school that had been pur­su­ing him for two years.

Akok with­drew from Put­nam Sci­ence Academy, where he had been play­ing as a post­grad, on Nov. 24, de­vel­op­ing a plan to take his SATs and then be­gin col­lege for the spring se­mes­ter. He chose UConn, where he had seemed to be lean­ing, though there is no bas­ket­ball schol­ar­ship avail­able right now. De­tails will have to be worked out for the short-term. There are no plans for him to play for UConn this season, but he will be able to go on schol­ar­ship and play in 2019-20.

Akok, pro­nounced ah-Cook, is 6 feet 9 and wiry. He was born in Su­dan, but moved to Manch­ester, N.H., with his fam­ily as a tod­dler. He did not be­gin play­ing bas­ket­ball se­ri­ously un­til he was in mid­dle school, and came to Put­nam Sci­ence Academy as a sopho­more.

The an­nounce­ment came in a tweet Satur­day af­ter­noon.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate all the schools that re­cruited me, it’s been a plea­sure. That said..... I’m com­mit­ted to Coach Hur­ley, the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut and @UCon­nMBB,” he wrote.

Last season, he broke out, av­er­ag­ing 11 points, six re­bounds and two blocks per game, shoot­ing 53 per­cent from the field and 41 per­cent on 3-point­ers, lead­ing the Mus­tangs to a 38-4 record and a na­tional ti­tle.

“I think he can be a pro,” Put­nam Sci­ence coach Tom Espinosa said re­cently, “and I never say that. I didn’t even say that about Hami­dou [Diallo]. Akok can block shots and shoot the 3. That’s an NBA skill set right there.”

Akok came to a UConn ex­hi­bi­tion game two years ago and had been a tar­get of for­mer coach Kevin Ol­lie and his staff. When Ol­lie was re­placed by Dan Hur­ley, the new staff made Akok a pri­or­ity, mak­ing nu­mer­ous trips to see him at Put­nam, as did other schools. His list of fi­nal­ists in­cluded Syra­cuse, Pitt, Ge­orge­town and Prov­i­dence. Akok took an of­fi­cial visit to UConn on Oct. 12 to see First Night.

He then made sev­eral other vis­its, in­clud­ing Syra­cuse, but UConn coaches stayed on it, vis­it­ing Put­nam. Akok re­turned to Storrs with a few team­mates to watch Hur­ley’s de­but vic­tory over More­head State on Nov. 8, be­fore a sell­out crowd at Gam­pel, and at­tended UConn’s vic­tory over Cor­nell on Nov. 20, a few days be­fore he de­cided to leave Put­nam Sci­ence. Dur­ing Novem­ber, Akok men­tioned turn­ing pro right out of prep school as an op­tion he was con­sid­er­ing. He would be el­i­gi­ble for the next NBA draft, since he earned his high school di­ploma in the spring of 2018.

Akok has been fight­ing knee in­juries, so he can use the spring se­mes­ter at UConn to re­hab the knees, strengthen his body un­der hu­man per­for­mance coach Sal Alosi, and get a jump on aca­demics. There is prece­dent for such an ap­proach. Diallo left Put­nam Sci­ence to join Ken­tucky’s pro­gram in Jan­uary 2017, then played the next season be­fore turn­ing pro.

He joins guards James B o u k n i g h t a n d Ja l e n Gaffney in the fold for Hur­ley, who has placed a lot of im­por­tance on re­cruit­ing from the Classes of 2019 and 2020 to re­build UConn’s tal­ent base.

Akok’s re­la­tion­ship with Hur­ley, Tom Moore and other UConn as­sis­tants appeared to make the dif­fer­ence.

He was im­pressed, he said dur­ing an in­ter­view at the Na­tional Prep Show­case in New Haven on Nov. 17, with Hur­ley’s dash from the bench to help up Josh Carl­ton in the Huskies’ open­ing game.

“That’s a sign of a great coach, right there,” Akok said. “… I feel like I can pic­ture my­self go­ing to UConn. It’s a very good school. It could be a good sit­u­a­tion where I could stay home and con­trib­ute. I could come in and do a lot for that coach. … They said I could come in and be a big con­trib­u­tor. I could change the team, bring the team to dif­fer­ent places, be that big con­trib­u­tor to help win a na­tional cham­pi­onship.”

Akok went to UConn af­ter tak­ing his SATs on Satur­day morn­ing and told the coaches of his de­ci­sion. He is one of a long list of re­cruits, in­clud­ing Bouknight, in­vited to UConn’s game against Ari­zona on Sun­day, with a near-sell­out crowd ex­pected at the XL Cen­ter. Guests will be mostly Class of 2020 and 2021 re­cruits.

UConn could still have at least two schol­ar­ships open for Class of 2019 re­cruits, and have been on the trail of big men Kofi Cock­burn, Trey Mitchell, Qudus Wa­hab and wing Pre­cious Achi­uwa, though it may be spring be­fore they make their de­ci­sions.

COURTESY OF PUT­NAM SCIENCES

For­mer Put­nam Sci­ence Academy for­ward Akok Akok an­nounced Satur­day he plans to play at UConn. Akok was born in Su­dan but moved to Manch­ester, N.H., as a tod­dler.

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