By EVAN CRANE, UK Athletics
LEXINGTON, Ky. – There is normally a learning curve for players when they transfer from junior college to the Southeastern Conference. Somebody forgot to tell Evelyn Akhator.
The forward was Kentucky’s top post presence last season, averaging 11.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. She scored in double figures in 24 games and recorded 10 or more rebounds in 15 games. The native of Lagos, Nigeria, posted 13 double-doubles last year, which were the most by one player in a single-season under head coach Matthew Mitchell. Her best performance was in the regular-season finale at highly ranked Texas A&M, when she brought down 18 rebounds – 10 offensive – with 15 points.
But last season’s success did nothing but motivate Akhator to get better. During the summer, the 6-foot-3 forward made a point of emphasis to develop her game while facing the basket, improving her mid-range jumper and ball-handling skills. Akhator said when she arrived on campus last season, Mitchell changed her shot and she has continued to work hard to improve it.
“I have been working hard on my shot,” Akhator said. “Last year when I came in, Coach (Mitchell) had to change my shot. So I have worked on my shot and my ball handling. I really want to be able to face up (a defender) in and out of the block and take my (defender) one-on-one. That has really been what I have been working on.”
Mitchell described Akhator in the first week of practice as “dynamic.”
“She wants to be her very best and she put a lot of time in this summer to advance her skillset,” Mitchell said. “She is shooting the ball really well and she is much more comfortable handling the ball because she has put in the time and the repetition. She has been very dynamic in the early going.”
The on-court skill set is not the only thing that Akhator focuses her time on these days. As one of only two seniors on the squad, Akhator along with senior guard Makayla Epps have made a point to be more vocal leaders on and off the court and for Akhator that starts with having fun.
“One thing I have always said since I started to play basketball is that basketball is all about fun. Even if we want to win or need to win, at the same time we still have to have fun because if it is not fun it is not basketball,” Akhator said. “Even when we are working out, I just try to make it fun for us. I try to play around with my teammates so they forget about the mistake they made and know to have fun.”