My heart sank when I saw Akok Akok grimacing in pain on the ground a minute into Sunday’s marquee matchup between UConn and Memphis.
I knew something was wrong or else he would have gotten back up and at least tried to play. But when he had to be helped to his feet and couldn’t bear any weight on his left leg, that was when I realized how bad the injury must have been. Was it a torn ACL? A broken ankle? A ruptured Achilles?
To be honest, it didn’t really matter which one it was. What matters was that one of the most hard-working and electric young players in college basketball is not going to be able to do what he loves for at least the next several months.
The initial reports were that Akok tore his Achilles tendon in his left leg, a horrific, but unfortunately common, injury for basketball players. It typically requires nine to 12 months of recovery time, which means it is unlikely that Akok will be ready for the start of next season.
Anyone who knows Akok or has seen him play knows that he is going to do everything in his power to get back on the court as soon as possible, but an Achilles tear is one of the most grueling in all of sports. Someone like Akok, who plays with so much explosiveness, may find it particularly difficult to get back to the level he wants to play at.
SB Nation did a great article last year after Kevin Durant’s Achilles tear about how basketball players have historically recovered from that injury. With the exception of Dominique Wilkins, no players ever got back to their pre-injury peak, even if they were able to be productive.
However, I think Akok is a special case. First of all, he is younger than any of the other guys on that list were when they got hurt. Also, Akok isn’t even close to his peak yet, so I really don’t think this injury will have a catastrophic effect on his career like it did to other players. But it’s still a terrible injury and a scary situation.
To be honest, I wasn’t thinking of Akok as a basketball player when I saw him hobbling off the court on Sunday. I thought of him as a person. He’s a college student just like me, who has to get up for classes every day and has assignments and other obligations beyond basketball. It’s much easier to brush off this kind of injury when it happens to someone like Durant, who will continue to make millions of dollars during his recovery time. Akok doesn’t have that luxury, which is why it is so much more of a relatable situation.
Did anyone else notice Akok doing this after the Bouk slam? The man tore his Achilles and he’s cheering like the fans in section 202. Awesome stuff pic.twitter.com/3Yw7MRmHfa
— Ari (@uconnfan2021) February 17, 2020
There is no doubt in my mind that if he adds some size to fill out his lanky frame and becomes a little bit more versatile on the offensive end, Akok will be a certain NBA Draft prospect. But more importantly than that, he’s a great person and teammate.
I’ve had the opportunity to interview Akok a couple of times, and he was always very receptive to questions and very pleasant to talk to. He’s quiet, but you can tell he really cares about getting better every day for his team.
He proved that yesterday when instead of going straight to the hospital, he came back to the bench in a boot to cheer his teammates onto victory, even jumping up and down on one foot during the James Bouknight dunk that nearly brought the house down.
And that’s why an injury like this hurts so much. That’s why Dan Hurley teared up in his postgame press conference. That’s why the Huskies will likely play the rest of their season for Akok.
Because with all the value he brings on the court as one of the best shot blockers in the country, he’s even more valuable as a teammate.
I know he’s going to come back and be great once again, but it’s heartbreaking to see this kind of injury happen to anyone, especially a hard-working, humble college student who isn’t getting paid and is truly playing for the love of the game.
Seeing Akok in tears on the bench almost brought tears to my own eyes. I could tell how much pain he was in — both the pain in his leg and the pain of not being able to be on the court playing the game he loves. Well, UConn Nation feels pain as well, and we will all be behind Akok every step of the way to his recovery.