Contact CU Independent Men’s Basketball Writer Alissa Noe at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @crazysportgirl1.
Now that the Colorado men’s basketball team is midway through its season, freshman guard Thomas Akyazili is beginning to get comfortable with his new role as a key secondary player.
Coming into the season, Colorado’s coaching staff had very few expectations of the Belgian native because they hadn’t seen Akyazili play in person. It’s safe to say that it’s working out pretty well for both parties.
“I had really no expectations because I didn’t see him during the whole recruiting process, other than on film. I played in Europe, so I know the types of players and point guards they produce, so I was comfortable with the recruitment but I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m pleasantly surprised of the player that we got,” said assistant coach Rodney Billups, who played professionally in Latvia and Finland after college.
It wasn’t smooth sailing at first, although Akyazili became more comfortable as individual workouts turned into full team workouts and the preseason finished.
“Oh, [we’ve] got work to do, only because his comfort level wasn’t exactly high,” Billups recalled of his first impression of the Belgian newcomer. “He walks different, he looks different, he talks different, and it took him a while to kind of get his feet set and be comfortable in what we expect and what his teammates expect. After three or four weeks, when we found out the player that we got. I think it was a little challenging for both us and him.”
Akyazili easily conformed to Boyle’s style of play and observed the coaches’ critique of his game. He may just be the hardest working freshman the team has seen in awhile.
“He’s so coachable, he’s always locked in, he competes every time he’s on the floor whether it’s practice or in a game. He tries to do the right thing — whatever we say, whatever we ask him to do, he’ll run through a wall for us. It’s easy for him,” Billups said.
Akyazili has played a significant role, averaging 15.7 minutes per game while contributing 30 total assists, six steals, 3.7 points per game and 1.7 rebounds. He’s been a very unselfish teammate early in his career.
“I think he’s a traditional point guard, like a pass-first, shoot-second guard,” Billups has noticed. “And with the guys that he’s playing with, I think it’s important that he does that, because he’s found the stability of guys like Josh Scott, Josh Fortune, and Wesley Gordon; guys that fill it up.”
For the freshman guard, however, he’s had to do a little adjusting to get used to his new role, which is different from what he grew accustomed to during this time playing in Europe.
“[In] previous years I would say I was more scorer. Now, that’s maybe hard to believe because I don’t shoot the ball a lot either, I don’t shoot a high percentage. But my main things are try to involve everyone in the game and just do what coach expects of me and play hard defense.”
He attributes this discrepancy to the size difference between European and American hoops, noting that he finds it more difficult to score in the paint against some of the bigger guys.
Akyazili is starting to get more comfortable in his Colorado basketball skin as he’s grown accustomed to playing with a new coach and new teammates. Whether it’s one of his blind passes to a teammate or his solid defense, he’s certainly become a valuable asset to the team in the first half of this 2015-16 season.
And now that he’s gotten a taste of the Pac-12, he’s excited to see what the rest of conference play has in store.
“I think it’s a fun league to play in. Everyone’s very competitive, everyone can beat everyone, so you’ve got to be ready every night and go out and play like it’s your last game,” Akyazili said.
Based on his success this year, the coaches are already expecting Akyazili to serve an even bigger role after the exodus of Josh Scott, Xavier Talton, Eli Stalzer and possibly Xavier Johnson following this season.
“I think he’s a key player this year,” Billups said. “His energy, his spark, and his defense off the bench this year makes him a key guy for us. But next year, we’ll expect a little more out of him.”