Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU’s Akok no longer taking anything for granted following medical scare

MORGANTOWN — There was cheering coming out of WVU’s locker room following its 91-81 victory against Toledo on Saturday.

It had nothing to do with the win, rather …

“After the game, I met with the guys and the first thing I said, as everyone gave a standing ovation, ‘we finally out-rebounded someone,’ ” WVU head coach Josh Eilert said.

It was a slim margin, 35-34, but, hey, WVU will take it.

The credit went to WVU forward Akok Akok, who just might be one of the best feel-good stories in all of college basketball on this Christmas Day.

His 12 rebounds tied a career high, set last season when he was playing at Georgetown.

The moment was not celebrated with a victory lap, nor a pat on the back, but rather by Akok stopping to talk with kids and signing autographs on his way to the locker room.

“That’s just who I am,” Akok said in the postgame media conference. “You can’t take none of this for granted. We play this great game. I feel sometimes through my career I took things for granted.”

Not anymore. Not after what happened to him on Oct. 27, when he collapsed to the floor during a charity exhibition game and was eventually wheeled off the floor on a stretcher and taken to the hospital.

That moment was as terrifying as it gets on a basketball court, and the immediate thought then was that game would likely be the last time Akok played basketball.

Two months later, Akok avoids talking about his medical condition publicly.
WVU, too, has not released his diagnosis or any information that led to his recovery.

“When something, like, what happened to me happens, the necessary precautions that are being taken, you just have to follow it,” Akok said after narrowly missing a double-double against the Rockets with nine points and 12 boards. “My teammates, they had me the whole time. They kept me uplifted every day through practice.

“I know the process of coming back, you just can’t come back and play 30 minutes a game. They’ll build you up. You just have to trust in the coaching staff and the medical team.”

In the weeks that followed Akok’s collapse, Eilert kept giving small updates on the forward’s recovery, always saying the reports were getting better.
Akok made a surprise return to the court against Pitt, just about five weeks after falling to the floor.

“Akok has went through so much. Every time I see him smile, it’s like music to my ears,” Eilert said. “I’m just so happy for him. He’s still getting his bearings under him.

“Basketball is a huge part of these guys’ lives. He thought it was almost taken away from him. Now he sees the success and he helped us win this game tonight, which will help him moving forward.”

Akok can help WVU with more than just his rebounding and his ability to block a few shots, while altering many others.

He had two nifty offensive moments against Toledo, one in which he caught a lob pass in the lane, but did so while facing away from the basket.

In midair, Akok turned his body and hit the lay-up.

Another time, Akok had the ball in front of the rim, but was tightly guarded by a Toledo defender, so he flipped the ball over to teammate Ofri Naveh, who was cutting in from the side for another lay-up.

“My most favorite play tonight was getting that offensive rebound and passing to Ofri Naveh for the dunk,” Akok said. “I feel like the crowd fed off that.”

There’s also Akok’s 3-point shooting ability — the 6-foot-10 forward has 51 of them for his career — and Eilert has previously said he has no reservations against Akok shooting them.

“His wheelhouse is on the defensive end,” Eilert said. “He can be explosive offensively, as well. He’s trying to find his space, but once he finds his momentum and where he fits in, he’s going to be a huge part of this.”