Signing this kid is a big deal

THE ANNOUNCEMENT last week that Cougar basketball coach <b>Dick Bennett</b> had signed 5-foot-11, 185-pound guard <b>Josh Akognon</b> to a national letter of intent produced no fanfare by mainstream media. And you can understand why. The information on him in the major recruiting databases is downright sparse. Even the official WSU website played his signing the usual way, sticking to statistics and a boilerplate quote from the head man. But a closer look at this kid reveals MUCH, MUCH more.

A super scorer, ballhandler and passer. Cat quick. A great leaper and outstanding defender. Good student with diligence and determination written all over him. That's right. Josh Akognon is something special, folks.

So special, in fact, that when he finally showed up on the major college radar screens this winter, the phone in the coach's office at Casa Grande High in Petaluma, Calif., wouldn't stop ringing. The home phone was in constant motion as well. Kansas, Gonzaga, Texas, Miami, USC, Cal, Oregon, Michigan, Baylor and more.

In the end, it appears to have come down to Michigan, Kansas, Oregon and Washington State.

"I wanted to send Josh to the right coach and there is no one better than Dick Bennett," said Jeremy Russotti, head man at Casa Grande. "Josh is a really quiet kid. He is very reserved and just wants to work. He is an ideal fit for coach Bennett's system."

Spread the word. The Cougars have landed themselves a ballplayer of uncommon talent.

If you scour the Web in search of the secret to this wunderkind and why he was such a secret for so long, you'll find but one national recruiting analyst, Lorenzo Harris, parsing out perspective.

"No other player on the West Coast epitomized hard work and persistence and improved his stock more in one year than Josh Akognon," Harris writes. "(He) went from total obscurity a year ago to being the most underrated guard in his class this season while his recruiting went virtually unnoticed."

The Cougars, like most schools, entered the race for him late. But WSU assistant coach Tony Bennett put on an impressive full-court press.

Akognon's obscurity is easy to understand. He's played but four years of organized hoops. And a year ago, as a junior, he was part of the supporting cast for senior sharpshooter Angelo Tsagarakis, who is now at Oregon State.

But as the 2003-04 season began to unfold, Coach Jeremy Russotti knew it was only a matter of time until the Division I schools started to pay serious attention. After the season, Russotti helped Akognon's cause by organizing games with college players so Akognon could prove his mettle to college recruiters.

Given what the kid accomplished in the regular season, it's hard to imagine that Russotti had to go the extra mile for his star. When all was said and done in his senior campaign, Akognon -- pronounced A-Koy-Yon -- had re-written single-season scoring records, averaging 30 points per game (fifth-most in all of California), and canning 89 three-pointers on 47 percent shooting behind the arc. More impressive, he had to constantly battle double- and triple-team defenses.

He posted six games of 40 or more points, including a 54-point effort in his second-to-last prep outing. He also led his team in rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots.

The honors poured forth -- league, region and Northern California Division II Player of the Year.

And yet, said his prep coach, the kid is selfless on the count. "If anything," Russotti told the Santa Rose Press-Democrat. "he sometimes passes up his own shot to pass off."

But what would you expect from the son of parents who have devoted their lives to the church?

His dad Emmanuel, originally from Nigeria, is the long-time pastor of Village Baptist Church in Marin City. He hold's three master's degrees --- in religion, divinity and theology -- and a doctorate in theology. In his spare time, he helps run the Better Africa Foundation, a non-profit organization he founded to help get more of the aid that flows to Africa into the hands of the people who need it most.

Josh's mom, Alfreda, is a highly accomplished Gospel singer, songwriter and composer whose choir just released its first CD.

To say Josh is well-grounded is an understatement. In an interview is a local paper earlier this year he used the word "family" over and over to describe who he was.

There were some growing pains, though. Coach Russotti likes to tell local papers the story of how Josh, as a sophomore, decided that players who get most noticed are those who call attention to themselves on the periphery of the basketball court. So he started showing up to practice 15 minutes late. That notion lasted less than a week. And now he's ready to make his mark in the Pac-10.

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