Akhator Only Scratching the Surface

Matthew Mitchell checked his phone on Thanksgiving, prepared to receive a number of messages expressing well wishes and gratitude.

The first such message came from Evelyn Akhator, which didn’t surprise Mitchell in the least.

“That’s the kind of person she is,” Mitchell said.

Akhator – the junior-college transfer and Lagos, Nigeria native – is in her first season at Kentucky. Thankfulness, for her, is an all-the-time thing.

“I’m really thankful,” Akhator said. “I really love it here. So I’m really grateful not just to him, but also my teammates because they really love me and I love them too.”

That shines through in her game, including in No. 11/12 UK’s 92-24 win over Jackson State.

Akhator had 20 points and 13 rebounds on Sunday – both game highs – to bring her averages to 12.5 points and 12 rebounds through UK’s six-game unbeaten start to 2015-16. She sets a goal of five rebounds for each of the game’s four periods, and often meets it.

“The way she impacts the game on the boards, she’s just so aggressive and wants to do it,” Mitchell said. “That’s really—in rebounding, I think it’s 85, 90 percent of it is just wanting to.”

Her raw talent doesn’t hurt either. Akhator – standing at 6-foot-3 – jumps higher and runs faster than almost anyone she runs across.

“As you all can see, just her athleticism is sort of next level-type stuff,” Mitchell said. “She looks different than everybody else out on the court a lot of times.”

Akhator, however, is averaging 2.3 turnovers, struggling at times with getting ahead of herself, according to her coach.

“I think she’s in a hurry a lot and unsure a lot and that’s where we you see—she mishandles a lot of basketballs and so she needs to keep working to get that,” Mitchell said. “And I think she will.”

Janee Thompson – the point guard who says she shares a connection on and off the court with Akhator – has similar faith.

“I think she can be an All American-type player,” said Thompson, who had 15 points and seven assists against Jackson State. “I think she has that athleticism and that skill as she continues to learn the game and pick her spots.”

Mitchell anticipates that will happen quickly as Akhator establishes a comfort level and learns to the point where she isn’t thinking so much. She has too much going for her for anything else to happen.

“She makes a ton of mistakes right now from the transition from junior college to here,” Mitchell said. “It’s just a higher level. She’s gotta learn how to play the game at this level and she’s learning and getting better every day, but all that stuff will come because people like her succeed. She works real hard, she cares about other people, she scares about the team. So she’ll be a success.”