BOISE — Emmanuel Akot stopped a reporter midsentence when asked about injuring himself while going for a rebound in the final minute of Boise State’s 59-56 loss to top-seed Memphis in the NIT quarterfinals last March.
“Yeah definitely,” said Akot, who agreed the Broncos likely would have won had he not suffered a cramp and had a rebound taken away from him with 30 seconds left.
“That was really tough,” Akot told the Idaho Press. “I still think about that all the time.”
Boise State led 55-54 and was on the verge of an improbable comeback when Akot appeared to be in position to grab a missed Memphis shot. But he suffered a severe calf cramp and fell to the ground, allowing Memphis’ Lester Quinones to grab the ball and score to put the Tigers up.
Boise State couldn’t take the lead in the final seconds and saw its season end in excruciating fashion. But it was almost a fitting end for Akot, who battled through a number of bumps and bruises throughout the year that limited his production.
“It was probably the worst cramp I’ve ever had and it came at the worst possible time it could happen,” Akot said. “But that made me want to get my body right even more so stuff like that doesn’t happen again.”
Akot, who missed the first two games of the season before making his Boise State debut on Dec. 4 against The College of Idaho, averaged 9.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 23 games with the Broncos after transferring from Arizona.
But he also missed three games midway through the season and dealt with multiple injuries that impacted his ability to practice and play at full strength.
He’s 100 percent healthy now after allowing his body time to rest and heal during the offseason.
“Last year I kind of had some nagging injuries and some stuff going on but I had a really good offseason and I’m feeling really good,” Akot said. “It was a lot of knee pain and hip pain which made me struggle with my movements. I wasn’t able to perform at a high level so just getting my body right was my main priority. I’m 100 percent now and feeling as good as I ever have.”
Akot basically didn’t play for two years before suiting up for the Broncos last December. His last game at Arizona was Jan. 12, 2019, against California, and his first game with Boise State was Dec. 4, 2020. He had hoped to be eligible for the 2019-20 season but had his appeal denied by the NCAA.
That meant a break of 23 months between games — something he hadn’t experienced in his whole life. Throw in that he was more of a role player at Arizona and he hadn’t played the kind of minutes and have as much freedom as he did for the Broncos since he was a senior in high school four years prior.
He also arrived with huge expectations. At No. 24 overall from 247Sports in the 2017 recruiting class, Akot is the highest-ranked prep player ever to play for Boise State in any sport.
With a year under his belt and the pressure removed, Akot and the Broncos expect him to be much better in year No. 2.
“It was kind of a difficult transition just because I hadn’t played in so long and I haven’t had a role like I did in high school in my whole college career,” Akot said. “So just having the chance to play and being in a system where there’s a lot of faith and trust in me, last year was like a building block and this year I’m going to be a lot more comfortable.
“Just having to sit out for two years and then getting to play, that comfort level is coming back and the familiarity of just playing basketball is coming back. And having a lot of returning guys and being in the system for three years now, I’m really comfortable with everything.”
It wasn’t like Akot played bad. He scored in double figures 10 times, including in each of the final four games of the season. He led the Broncos in assists nine times, including both NIT games.
In just his second game at Boise State on Dec. 9 he hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 13 seconds left to give the Broncos a road win at BYU, a team that eventually qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
“I think I had my ups and downs,” Akot said. “In the first half of the season I kind of struggled but on that Nevada road trip I kind of got it together and I played a lot better from there to the end of the season.”
Akot played a few different positions last season but will serve as the primary point guard for the Broncos with the departure of RayJ Dennis. It’s his favorite spot to play and one that at 6-foot-8 gives him a lot of advantages.
“He can see the floor really well and he can get the ball into the paint and score because of his size,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “I’ve seen a big jump from him because he’s getting a lot more comfortable at the position as far as making guys better and knowing what we do and what we’re looking to do. I’ve seen a real big jump with him.
“The athleticism I’m seeing now, his body is in a good spot and he’s been moving really well. His durability is better and he’s got his athleticism back. He looks spry right now.”
Multiple teammates agreed that Akot has been the most impressive player during the summer and first few weeks of practice.
“He’s definitely going to take that next step,” senior Abu Kigab said. “He’s our 6-8 point guard and you don’t see many guys like that. When he comes off the pick and roll he can see the whole floor and he’s a willing passer and a great passer.
“He can score at all three levels, he pushes the pace really well, he’s a great defender. We’re expecting a lot from him. He’s one of our leaders and I’m very excited for him this year.”
Akot figures to be one of five transfers in the starting lineup for the Broncos this season. He admitted playing basketball professionally is “a big goal of mine” but said he’s not looking that far ahead yet.
The Broncos have big goals too — and a big season from Akot would help both sides.
“It’s obviously a big year but I don’t want to worry a lot about myself,” Akot said. “If I worry about my own accolades I’ll play worse. I’m focused on the team and being the best teammate I can be and bringing it 100 percent every day. If I do that, everything will work out.
“Right now, winning is what’s most important.”
Boise State opens the season Nov. 9 at home against Utah Valley.