Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Akok Akok’s WVU debut was something to cheer about

The first sort of hint came Tuesday afternoon, as WVU men’s hoops coach Josh Eilert was giving an update on his team.

“I haven’t given up on getting additions through our own guys,” Eilert began. “We keep getting better and better news on Akok.”

It became official about 36 hours later: WVU forward Akok Akok was medically cleared to play basketball again, starting with the Mountaineers’ 80-63 loss in the Backyard Brawl against rival Pitt.

Akok played nearly eight minutes and had two rebounds and two blocked shots.

“I was just so happy for him,” WVU forward Quinn Slazinski said. “Akok, he gets this scare and doesn’t know where his life is going to go, just like all of us. He’s in practice clapping and laughing with us.

“I usually don’t get emotional, but I love that kid. He’s been through so much. I’m just so happy for him.”

It is in this situation, though, that stats matter little. We are often told that sports are meant for nothing more than a momentary escape from life.

There are moments when sports and life become equals, and such a case came back on Oct. 27, when Akok collapsed hard to the Coliseum floor during an exhibition game.

He did not move right away. When he did, Akok’s attempt to get back to his knees came up short and he immediately went back to lying on his back, as medical aid rushed to his side.

One of the scariest scenes you’ll ever see on a basketball court is when a defibrillator is brought out, which was the case that night, although it had never had to be used.

It was at that point, sports became secondary, if they truly mattered at all.
That moment was repeated — in an absolute good way — with 13:46 remaining in the first half, when Eilert leaned over and summoned Akok into the game.

“Ultimately, it was a day-by-day situation,” Eilert said after the game. “Any kind of hiccup would have certainly hindered that. I didn’t know for sure he would be going today, but leading into it, he had a solid two and three days of practice.”

The Coliseum erupted, a fitting welcome back to a young man who just joined the program through the transfer portal this summer from Georgetown.

It still hasn’t been made public what medical condition Akok was diagnosed with. Eilert said he is leaving all of that information with the doctors.

In the school’s press release Wednesday night, it said Akok had met with “multiple physicians” and had received “several expert opinions” before returning to action.
We have no idea who those experts were or what hospitals or medical institutions they work for.

On this night, though, none of that seemed to matter.

The details that did matter was Akok getting an opportunity to finish out a career on his terms and not the terms of some medical report keeping him off the floor as a spectator.

He looked good in blocking those two shots, although it’s going to take some time getting back in game shape.

One of Akok’s rebounds saw him battling for it on the floor, a sign that he’s not worried about getting in there and going 100%.

“We’re so happy for the kid,” Eilert said. “So much of these kids’ lives is built around the game of basketball. The fear of him losing that is crushing.

“He gave us a defensive spark. That’s kind of his forte. He can help us protect the rim. You could see out there he is limited, because he’s only been cleared for three or four days. He’s not in game shape yet.”