Sean Miller finally got his man.
When UConn released James Akinjo from his Letter of Intent in March 2018, the Arizona Wildcats were among the schools that pursued him the most, to the point they visited him and his family at their Bay Area residence.
But as the story goes...
“We didn’t finish in first place,” Miller said. “He went to Georgetown.”
Call it a detour. Akinjo lasted one full season and seven games of his sophomore season before throwing his name into the transfer portal in December.
This time, Miller won the race. Warding off schools like Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, the Wildcats announced the addition of Akinjo on Tuesday—and they have big plans for him.
First and foremost, the ex-Hoya has a chance to succeed Nico Mannion next season as the next heir of Point Guard U.
“When it came to us that he was going to transfer... certainly we had an interest in him, but especially with the need that we have,” Miller said. “We’re going to lose Nico (to the NBA Draft), and I think losing him and looking at the guys that we’re bringing in—Dalen Terry is a guy that we love, he could play anywhere on the court, including the 1—but James is that point guard that I think you love to have. He’s tough, he can score, he can get his own shot. He was the Big East Freshman of the Year, and that’s a really good conference. So I think that says a lot about his ability level. And so we look forward to having him. We really do.”
Not everyone feels that way about Akinjo. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has been one of his loudest critics. The Hall of Famer remarked in December that Akinjo shoots too much, doesn’t pass enough, and that Georgetown is more cohesive without him.
Not what you want to hear about a point guard, but, statistically at least, there is some truth to it. Akinjo averaged 13.4 points per game with the Hoyas this season, but shot 34 percent from the field. He averaged 4.4 assists per game, but also 2.3 turnovers. Georgetown went 4-3 with its sophomore point guard and is currently 6-2 without him.
Miller, who later emphasized that Akinjo can score and distribute, declined to acknowledge Boeheim’s comments directly, but offered a retort to those who question Akinjo’s ability.
“He was the most valuable player of the Peach Jam and his travel team won the Peach Jam,” Miller said. “I don’t have to say anything more than that right there. I’m very familiar with another Big East Freshman of the Year, he was an amazing player at Pitt: me.”
“So I have a lot of respect for a Big East Freshman of the Year. I’m kidding, but I’m not kidding. ... They don’t give that award out because of anything other than he earned it. And look, there’s a lot of change in college basketball. It doesn’t mean something’s wrong with a person, the coach, the player, the situation. It’s just all we have to do is look at a lot of players that have come to Arizona. I’ll name two that I didn’t recruit, Chris Mills and Loren Woods were two great transfers. That doesn’t mean that they left a good or bad situation as much as the one that they chose at Arizona, it really worked out for both them and their team.
“So we’ve had some guys leave, we’ve had some guys stay. It’s not personal. It’s not an indication that something’s wrong with the staff or the coach or the program. And it’s not anything wrong with the player or the player’s family. It’s just people are transitioning and we try to make the best decisions for our program. We had great familiarity with not only James but his family, his situation. He went to Salesian High School, which is one of the great schools in California. We know his high school coach well. We know his travel team program exceptionally well, the Oakland Soldiers. Like I said, we actually tried to recruit him when he didn’t go to UConn and he ended up going to Georgetown. ... So, right now, based on who we’re losing and how he’s performed there, his academics and all the information that we have, I think he’s going to be just a great addition to our program.”
Miller said Akinjo will enroll at Arizona in time for the spring semester—aka Jan. 15— but is unsure when he’ll make his UA debut. Conventional wisdom says NCAA rules will force Akinjo to sit until the conclusion of the fall semester of next season, though Arizona could apply for a waiver in hopes that he can suit up next November instead.
It’s unclear if that’s the plan.
“I think that’s something we’ll address once he’s here,” Miller said. “I would probably be able to answer that question more in the spring than maybe now.”
Either way, Akinjo will be able to practice with the Wildcats as soon as he steps on campus. Walk-on Kory Jones usually runs the point for the scout team. Now, the Wildcats have the luxury of having the reigning Big East Freshman of the Year do it.
Mannion, in particular, should benefit from the challenge.
“The more quality that we have on an everyday basis, it’s better for our team,” Miller said.
Word to Jim Boeheim.
“We did our research,” Miller said. “We know [Akinjo] very well and we’re incredibly excited to have him. People can certainly have their opinion of all of our players, but we have to make our own decisions.”