In late December, Dexter Akanno was at the Rancho Mirage Invitational with Valencia basketball when he got a notification on his phone. He received a direct message through Instagram. From Steve Nash. “He was just like, berserk,” said CJ Finley, a teammate of Akanno’s. “He was showing all of us. Like, Steve Nash? Are you kidding me? Going crazy. He can’t believe it’s happening, and neither can we.” Akanno was hand-picked, along with several other players, by the former NBA star as a winner of Nash’s “Give and Go” contest. Hundreds of basketball players ages 12 to 18 entered the contest with the hopes of winning the prize of a one-on-one coaching session from Nash himself.
The Valencia senior received his coaching session on Tuesday at a park in Manhattan Beach. When asked about the session, a lazy smile spread across Akanno’s face and an almost-dreamy look surfaced in his eyes. “We talked about shooting and pick and roll and just being a better leader,” he said. “It’s just crazy. I’ve always looked up to him,” continued Akanno. “I can’t have anybody better train me and for me to learn from. He just has so much knowledge and it was only two hours, but those two hours really changed my life.” Nash posted a video to his YouTube channel on Jan. 5 detailing some of the players he was looking at for “Give and Go” and spent a significant amount of time talking about Akanno’s submission. “Good shooting stroke, athletic,” Nash said as he analyzed Akanno’s recruiting video. “He’s got his head up.” Nash also read aloud the point guard’s written portion of the submission, which detailed his college interests, his “mamba mentality,” and his future basketball goals, which include playing professionally. “The meaning of mamba mentality is just zoning out everything, all the background noise and just staying focused on that one goal. “And whatever is happening at home, whatever is happening at school, I’ve just got to zone out and just play the game. Go towards that one goal, which is winning.” Part of that mentality, for Akanno, is independently practicing at 5:30 a.m. and then independently again after the Valencia team practice seven days a week. It’s paid off – Vikings basketball coach Bill Bedgood estimates that he’s been contacted by eight to 10 Division 1 basketball coaches about Akanno. “I’ve never had a kid that works harder than that,” Bedgood said. “I remember a week we lost a game early in the season, one I thought we should’ve had and we were playing a much better team the next day. He was here at 5:30 a.m. getting shots up after a disappointing night before.” Akanno said his father would always show the sports section of the newspaper – particularly the basketball games – to him when he was young. He was uninterested in the sport until about eight years old when he began playing for Impact Basketball. At first, he wasn’t very good. But Akanno wouldn’t rest until he was the best he could be. Years later, that mindset hasn’t faded. “When people get him pretty pissed off, there’s no stopping this kid,” Finley said. “He always has a chip on his shoulder and always feels like he has something to prove and he just goes out there. That’s why he’s one of the top players the valley.”