Akpan off UH
hoops team

Wallace said the popular
forward should concentrate
on one sport

Popular forward Nkeruwem "Tony" Akpan no longer figures in the Hawaii basketball team's plans this season, UH coach Riley Wallace said yesterday.

Wallace said Akpan, now a defensive end with the UH football team, will not be back with the basketball squad, saying Akpan needs to focus on one sport rather than trying to do both.

"He needs to concentrate on what it is that he's chosen to do," Wallace said.

"He needs to go out there and concentrate, because he's a good enough athlete and a good enough person that whatever sport he chooses he'll be good at."

Akpan, listed at 6-foot-7 and 254 pounds on the UH football roster, came to Hawaii to play basketball, but UH football coaches have said Akpan could have a bright future as a defensive end.

With the football team on a bye this week, Akpan had planned to work out with the basketball squad. He played in the football team's scout-team scrimmage Wednesday and missed basketball practice. Akpan was one of the stars of the scrimmage, recording two sacks and causing fumbles both times.

The UH basketball coaches had planned to have Akpan return to the team as a walk-on after the completion of football season. Wallace thought about redshirting him this year, but said earlier this week the Rainbows might try to have Akpan ready for the Western Athletic Conference schedule.

But Wallace said yesterday that the uncertainty over whether Akpan would return and what role he would play contributed to the decision.

"Everybody here loves him, they love Tony Akpan, but it's become where it's a distraction," Wallace said.

"We have everything to get it done here, so he has to concentrate, get in the weight room and do what he needs to do to be the best he can be in football. ... (Akpan) and this team need to get their own identities."

Wallace said he informed Akpan of the decision before yesterday's practice and said Akpan seemed to accept the reasoning.

"My first responsibility is to the team, and this was best for the team and it'll probably end up being the best thing for Tony since he can concentrate on what he needs to do," Wallace said.

Akpan, who is originally from Akwa-Ibom, Nigeria, played in 12 games with the basketball team as a freshman and emerged as a reliable contributor in the post last year. He played in all 31 games his sophomore season and started seven. He averaged 7.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and blocked 20 shots. He scored a career-high 25 points on 11-for-13 shooting against Bradley in last year's Rainbow Classic.

Akpan went out for the football team in the spring and was put on scholarship with the Warriors. In his first season of football, Akpan has appeared in eight games and recorded two tackles. He also plays on the special teams units and blocked a field-goal attempt in the Warriors' 55-28 victory over Fresno State.

Rainbows going big: It's an exciting time to be a big man on the Hawaii basketball team again.

With sharpshooters like Predrag Savovic and Carl English gone, the Rainbows are looking to play a more balanced game by looking into the post.

"We don't have the star player like we had the previous two years with Savo and Carl, so we have to rely more on a team game," senior center Haim Shimonovich said during the team's media day yesterday. "I think it's good because that way if somebody has a bad game it doesn't shut off your offense."

Savovic led the Rainbows with 20.3 points per game in 2001-02. English averaged 19.6 last year and set a school record for 3-point goals.

Looking into the post rather than setting up outside jumpers will require a shift in the team's mind-set on offense.

"It's a change in mentality," forward Phil Martin said. "You know guys can shoot it, but it's a part of the game we have to add. ... Everybody's going to get their opportunity and we have to utilize our big guys."

This season, Shimonovich and Martin -- the cover boys of this year's media guide -- give the Rainbows experience in the post along with returnees Paul Jesinskis and Milos Zivanovic.

Transfer Jeff Blackett adds even more depth at power forward, as does Julian Sensley, who can play both forward positions.

The emphasis on looking inside doesn't mean the Rainbows are abandoning the outside game that has helped them win two Western Athletic Conference titles over the last three seasons. In fact, the guards may end up scoring even more.

"We still have good shooters from the outside," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "But we want to get the same kind of shots a different way and give the guys touches down inside and see if we can improve our balance.

"The guards can still lead you in scoring, but they're going to get it with feeds from the big guys."

Guard Michael Kuebler is the team's leading returning scorer after putting up 12.2 points per game last season, and isn't worried about getting fewer shots.

"We've got such a big team, if we get it inside like (Wallace) wants us to do, all that's going to do is free up the outside even more," Kuebler said. "If I do tend to get less shots they're probably going to be better ones. I'd rather get more quality shots than just putting up more shots.

"Coming into this year no one's been designated as the guy everyone's looking at to be the offensive leader of the team, so we're all trying to contribute and help out."

English a Lowgator: English was the second-round pick of the Charleston Lowgators in yesterday's National Basketball Development League draft.

The former UH standout was the 11th overall pick in the draft as the six NBDL squads filled out their rosters over 10 rounds.

Former Ohio State star Ken Johnson was selected by the Huntsville Flight with the top pick overall. Other players from WAC schools selected included Antonio Meeking (Louisiana Tech) and Hiram Fuller (Fresno State).

Both English and Fuller participated in training camp with the Indiana Pacers before being released.

There are 11 former NBDL players on NBA rosters this season.

NBDL training camps run Nov. 8-20. The regular season begins Nov. 21. Charleston opens it's 46-game schedule Nov. 28 against Roanoke.


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