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Coming to America: Daniel Akin’s journey to Hilltop Circle

There is a district of Southeast London, England known as Eltham, with a population of about 35,000 people. Eltham has been home to English Royalty such as the Earl of Cornwall and Bridget of York. Eltham is also the hometown of one of UMBC’s up-and-coming basketball stars, Daniel Akin.

Akin describes Eltham as, “a small town, kind of like a little cul-de-sac.” When reflecting on life in a small town, Akin said, “Everyone there is pretty friendly. Everyone knows each other. It’s a good community. It’s very different compared to [Baltimore].” The biggest difference for Akin is, “the amount of people I see on a daily basis, and no one here is used to a British accent. No one can usually understand what I’m saying initially, and it’s really annoying. Sometimes, I have to change the way I say words so people can understand what I’m saying.”

Akin is a freshman forward/center for the men’s basketball team at UMBC. His major is currently undecided, but he is taking Juvenile Delinquency, Deviance in Society, English 100 and Media and Communications this semester. Akin has had a large impact on the Retrievers this season, starting 11 games, and accumulating a large amount of rebounds for the Retrievers. What makes Akin’s numbers so impressive is that this is only his fourth year playing organized basketball. The first time that Akin picked up a basketball was at the age of 13.

“At first I didn’t like it. I hated running suicides,” he said, “so I thought maybe it wasn’t for me. Then, a couple years later, I grew to [6’7] and I was like, ‘maybe I’ll give it a go now.'” Basketball never had much of an influence for Akin during his childhood either. “It wasn’t really televised in England like football or rugby,” Akin said. However when games were televised, he would enjoyed following superstars such as LeBron James and Blake Griffin. “They use their athleticism to their advantage, and they play hard as well,” and Akin tries to emulate these actions throughout his game.

Akin is also a well-rounded athlete. In addition to being a basketball player, he grew up participating in soccer, and competed nationally in the high jump and handball. “At first handball was kind of a joke because me and my friends were bored, and we wanted to try a different sport. So, we just went down to a local club and we were actually quite good at it. Then we went to a regional team, and the regional team was like tryouts for the national team which we did.” Akin said that handball translates well to the court as, “it is a mixture of basketball and soccer, so bouncing and throwing the ball have helped me with basketball.”

Akin only played three seasons of organized basketball in London for Barking Abbey Basketball Academy. The academy describes its mission as, “to provide a situation similar to that found on mainland Europe and in the United States where basketball is scheduled throughout the day around academic qualifications.” Before establishing their basketball academy in 2005, Barking Abbey had a rich history in education, boasting its status as, “one of the first co-educational grammar schools in England.” Barking Abbey was founded in 1922 and served as a traditional school before merging with another school in 1970 to become, “A Specialist Sports and Humanities College.” The school has produced multiple athletes such as Akin and Stony Brook-forward Akwasi Yeboah.

“It’s really weird [playing against Yeboah], we’re friends off the court and we’re pretty much enemies when we’re playing.” Akin attributes his quick development to work ethic. “I knew I was behind everyone else. They played probably five to seven years, so I had to work a lot harder than people,” said Akin. “Some of the coaches that I’ve met on the journey have helped me and put a lot of effort into me as well,” he continued.

Akin was recruited by other schools in the United States to play basketball as well. Drexel, Maine, and Mass Lowell all pursued Akin heavily. He was first contacted by the UMBC coaching staff last March. “My coach told me that UMBC was interested in me. At first I didn’t know what that was. What does UMBC stand for? What is that?” said Akin. “I did my own research — I looked at the scores and the highlights and I was like, this school is pretty good,” he continued. The biggest factor for Akin was the communication from head coach Ryan Odom. Akin detailed his relationship with Odom during the recruiting process, “I was speaking every day pretty much with the head coach, and he came to England to talk to me, which was big. He watched one of our practices, and we talked after practice, and he offered me [a position with the team] so I was like yeah.” Akin said the decision boiled down to one key thing, “UMBC showed me the most interest, and I thought I could have a good four years here.”

The biggest adjustment stateside was the education. “The education was completely different,” Akin explained, “you guys have to do multiple classes and subjects. In England you pick a major and you just do that.” As a whole, Akin says that his favorite thing about UMBC so far is the atmosphere. “So far everyone is really welcoming. There’s a lot of interesting people here and there’s a lot of international people here, so I feel like I connect with them.” Given the opportunity to change one thing about the university, Akin would like to add just one thing: “It would be different to have a football team here. I’d really like to experience that.”

Akin has been impressive so far this season, working his way into the starting rotation for the Retrievers. Akin has amassed 13 starts so far this season, accumulating a total of 95 points with an impressive 64.3 shooting percentage. He is also averaging 3.2 rebounds per game. However, Akin has been able to increase his season averages since maintaining a starting position, in games he has started, he has bumped his rebound total up to 5.7 per game, while averaging 4.9 points.

One thing is for sure, it is going to be a fun four years watching Akin transform from a raw freshman talent, to a possible all-conference big man. That’s a bold prediction, but if there’s anything that the story of Akin can tell us, it’s that he never fails to impress.