By Ben Steele
Milwaukee Sentinel Journal
For The Signal
Marquette hopes it has discovered an under-the-radar basketball gem in 2019 guard Dexter Akanno.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Akanno gave an oral commitment to the Golden Eagles last week.
He averaged 15 points, 4 rebounds and 3.5 assists as a senior at Valencia (Calif.) High School. He will attend prep school at Blair Academy in New Jersey this season.
MU has one more scholarship available for the 2019 class. The Golden Eagles are finalists, along with Arizona, for highly touted point guard Nico Mannion.
Here is a closer look at the Akanno:
MU offered Akanno a scholarship in July and he took an official visit to the school two weeks ago.
“(Marquette) is known for taking guys to the league (NBA),” Akanno said on Thursday. “They treat their players very well. Their player development is very good, especially in the part that I need, my jump shot.
“I think I need to get that better, and they have one of the best shooters in college basketball in Markus Howard. I think they really know how to teach shooting and basketball IQ in general. They have a great coaching staff over there.”
Akanno got to play in some pickup runs with the Golden Eagles on his visit.
“I got up and down with them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s a major part, too. I really liked playing with them and it seems like they really liked playing with me.”
Akanno also developed a quick bond with MU redshirt freshman Ike Eke. Akanno was born in California but his mom is from Nigeria, as is Eke.
“He talked to my mom (during the visit). It was great,” Akanno said. “He’s also another reason why I picked Marquette.”
Akanno’s work ethic, 6-8 wingspan and strength make him an intriguing prospect on the defensive end.
“I can see how people can say that,” Akanno said. “I played pretty good defense this summer (on the AAU circuit). But I honestly think getting to the basket (on offense) is probably my strongest point.
“But if they see me as (a defensive player), I’m going to take that to heart and I’m going to lock the other team’s best player up.”
Under the radar
Akanno is not ranked by 247 Sports and didn’t even have a page on the recruiting service’s site until committing to MU.
He has a few theories about that.
“Where I grew up, Valencia is not a basketball town,” he said. “I also played with an unsponsored (AAU) team in BTI.”
Akanno began to garner more interest over the summer, including an offer from Virginia Tech and former MU coach Buzz Williams. But being overlooked only gave Akanno more motivation.
“I think that I was a little underappreciated,” he said. “But I think that was the best thing for me. It’s all good. It worked out in the end.”
Akanno decided to spend this school year at Blair Academy. He turns 18 this month.
“Just becoming a better student-athlete,” he said of doing a post-grad year. “Just being able to balance basketball and school. It’s also going to help me make the transition to being a freshman at Marquette. I won’t miss home as much.”
Blair coach Joe Mantegna helped develop NBA players Luol Deng, Royal Ivey and Charlie Villanueva.
“He has great knowledge of the game,” Akanno said of Mantegna. “I can’t wait to learn from him.”
Lessons from an MVP
Akanno had a bit of viral fame over the summer after he responded to an Instagram post from two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, who was offering in-person tutelage for a video series.
“By God’s grace, he looked at it and then he picked me,” Akanno said. “I had a training session with him and recorded it. It was a great experience. I will always cherish that.
“That one training session changed the way I look at basketball and the way I look at life. It just shows that I can give back, too.”
He also got leadership lessons from the point guard who was enshrined last week in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Even if somebody on my team makes a mistake,” Akanno said. “If he drops a pass or something, instead of getting on him – ‘You got to do this better’ – instead I should say ‘Don’t worry. Next play.’
“Now he doesn’t feel embarrassed in front of the whole gym. Instead, he’s like ‘OK. I got this. I’ll get the next play.’ That’s what I really got from (Nash).”