PROVIDENCE — Woonsocket’s Mike Akinrola is making a big impact on Rhode Island College’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.
“It took me awhile to get adjusted to college ball,” Akinrola admitted on Wednesday afternoon. “As a freshman, I came in and realized I had to lose some weight to keep up with coach (Bob) Walsh’s offense. I didn’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.”
Akinrola only played 27 minutes during his freshman season as he adjusted to college life, both in the classroom and on the basketball coach.
“My sophomore year, I hurt my hand and didn’t help the team much until the second half of the season,” 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.
“Mike worked hard to get in shape when we first came here,” Walsh admitted after Wednesday’s practice session ended. “We 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.”
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.
“We want to win the LEC championship again,” Akinrola said. “Right now, we’re not doing as good as we should. We need to focus on the next game and nothing else.”
Akinrola credits the RIC coaching staff with helping him develop his offensive moves in the low post.
“Coach Walsh really emphasizes the low post game in practice,” Akinrola said. “This year is my first season as a starter and I am playing as hard as I can.”
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.
“Mike is getting himself into better position in the post,” the coach said. “He 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.
“Mike’s offense has improved in a couple of ways,” Walsh added. “One, 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.
“What 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,” Walsh concluded.
Akinrola is also learning how to get into good position in the classroom.
“When I first came to college, I really didn’t do much,” he said. “Things weren’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. I’m majoring in justice studies. I hope to become a policeman or state trooper after I graduate.”
Rhode Island College has been a good fit for Akinrola.
“I’m very happy with my decision to come here,” he said. “It’s cheap for me and not far from home.”
Bob Walsh is happy Akinrola joined his basketball program.
“We wanted to establish a championship program here,” the coach said. “We 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.”