James Akinjo was a valuable asset for the Arizona Wildcats last season even though he spent game days in street clothes.
“Think about him, he played against Nico Mannion and Jemarl Baker every day (in practice),” Arizona coach Sean Miller said in an interview with Brian Jeffries. “And there were days when those guys really battled. I loved James in practice because he came at a time when he was able to make Nico and those guys better and pushed them every day in practice.”
Akinjo transferred to the UA in December after spending his freshman season and seven games of his sophomore season at Georgetown.
It was a big pickup, with ESPN labeling Akinjo as the No. 1 midyear transfer in the country. In his only full season with the Hoyas, Akinjo was named the Big East Freshman of the Year after averaging 13.4 points and 5.2 assists with a shooting line of .365/.391/.812.
His per-game averages were almost identical in his abbreviated sophomore season but his shooting percentages sharply dipped, as he made just 24 percent of his 3s. His assist-to-turnover ratio—31 to 16—was just OK.
Syracuse Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim famously ripped Akinjo when he said Georgetown “got rid of a guy that wouldn’t pass the ball to anybody and just shot it every time and that’s why they’re good now. They’ve got seven guys that are as good as anybody’s. Two guys weren’t really contributing at all and that other guy was throwing the ball up all the time. I know Patrick [Ewing] can’t say that but I can. I watched him play three games. He lost two games for them by himself.”
But Miller was familiar with Akinjo after recruiting the Oakland, California native in high school and confided in some other Big East coaches before pursuing him for the second time. Ultimately, Miller decided Akinjo can bring an edge to Arizona’s backcourt, something one could argue it has lacked since Kadeem Allen graduated.
“When we reached out to check on James, in addition to what we already knew, I think we’re getting a guy that’s experienced, that brings a toughness who can play both defense and offense and is just a terrific point guard,” Miller said. “(He’s) experienced, a little bit older, and I believe that we’re getting a point guard who will come into the Pac-12 and really settle in and be a very good player.”
Akinjo is expected to start for Arizona when he is eligible to play. It’s still unclear if that will be at the start of the season or at the end of the fall semester—AKA around December.
And while Akinjo profiles as a lead guard, he could see some time off the ball. Arizona is loaded with guards after adding four-star recruit Kerr Kriisa and Seattle U grad Terrell Brown while returning Baker and Brandon Williams, so it would behoove them to find ways to get all of them involved.
“The other thing I like about James is he doesn’t have to be the one and only point guard on the court,” Miller said. “We could play a number of different combinations. I think this coming year we’ll play a lot of three-guard lineups because James also can play off the ball and score. And that’s something that I think we’re excited to utilize with him as well. “