PROVIDENCE â€” Woonsocketâ€™s Mike Akinrola is making a big impact on Rhode Island Collegeâ€™s basketball team this season.
The 6-foot-6 junior is averaging 14.3 points per game. He was named Little East Conference Co-Player of the Week last week after averaging 21.5 points and five rebounds in two games.
â€śIt took me awhile to get adjusted to college ball,â€ť Akinrola admitted on Wednesday afternoon. â€śAs a freshman, I came in and realized I had to lose some weight to keep up with coach (Bob) Walshâ€™s offense. I didnâ€™t realize how big I was. I weighed 260 pounds when I came here. By the end of my freshman season, I had lost a lot of weight, just by practicing with the team.â€ť
Akinrola only played 27 minutes during his freshman season as he adjusted to college life, both in the classroom and on the basketball coach.
â€śMy sophomore year, I hurt my hand and didnâ€™t help the team much until the second half of the season,â€ť Akinrola added. Down to 230 pounds, the powerful frontcourt player began seeing significant minutes and upped his scoring average to 9 points per game. His playing time increased to an average of 19 minutes per game.
â€śMike worked hard to get in shape when we first came here,â€ť Walsh admitted after Wednesdayâ€™s practice session ended. â€śWe play a pretty fast game. When Mike was a freshman, he realized he would have to change his approach. And to his credit, he did just that.â€ť
The Anchormen won the Little East Conference regular season and playoff titles last year. This year, they are tied for second place in the LEC with a 6-3 record, two games behind Western Connecticut.
â€śWe want to win the LEC championship again,â€ť Akinrola said. â€śRight now, weâ€™re not doing as good as we should. We need to focus on the next game and nothing else.â€ť
Akinrola credits the RIC coaching staff with helping him develop his offensive moves in the low post.
â€śCoach Walsh really emphasizes the low post game in practice,â€ť Akinrola said. â€śThis year is my first season as a starter and I am playing as hard as I can.â€ť
Walsh, who has led the Anchormen to four regular season LEC titles and three tournament championships in six seasons as head coach, notices more determination in his good-natured center.
â€śMike is getting himself into better position in the post,â€ť the coach said. â€śHe has always had an ability to put the ball in the basket. Now he has more of a relentless attitude to get into position under the hoop. It is almost impossible to stop Mike once he gets position because he is so good at going to the basket.
â€śMikeâ€™s offense has improved in a couple of ways,â€ť Walsh added. â€śOne, he has learned how to get his position on the block. Two, he is really running the floor. Once or twice a game, Mike is going to score a basket in transition for us. Mike is 6-foot-6 and around 230 pounds and he definitely can use his wide body to good advantage.
â€śWhat Mike has really learned is to use his feet better. Instead of getting into a leaning and shoving match with his defender, Mike is now sliding his feet to get into good position,â€ť Walsh concluded.
Akinrola is also learning how to get into good position in the classroom.
â€śWhen I first came to college, I really didnâ€™t do much,â€ť he said. â€śThings werenâ€™t going well at first. But I learned how to get my work done for class, and I found out what I needed to do to get good grades. Iâ€™m majoring in justice studies. I hope to become a policeman or state trooper after I graduate.â€ť
Rhode Island College has been a good fit for Akinrola.
â€śIâ€™m very happy with my decision to come here,â€ť he said. â€śItâ€™s cheap for me and not far from home.â€ť
Bob Walsh is happy Akinrola joined his basketball program.
â€śWe wanted to establish a championship program here,â€ť the coach said. â€śWe wanted to be recognized on a national level (in Division III) and I think we have done that. Local guys like Mike Akinrola have helped us achieve our goals.â€ť