HIGHLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. – No one would blame you for losing track of Jaden Akins for stretches last weekend inside Szott Fieldhouse at Milford High School. First of all, the combo guard’s reedy frame – 6-foot-3, 155 pounds – doesn’t cut an imposing figure. Meanwhile, playing with unfamiliar teammates during a ragged scrimmage isn’t an optimal setting for a prospect who prides himself on facilitating for others.
Every so often, though, the product of Farmington High School flashed a brief glimpse at the upside that provoked a run of offers in August from the likes of Missouri, Iowa, Mississippi State, Xavier, Northwestern, Michigan State and Georgia Tech.
It’s using a snake dribble to weave into the lane, rise up for a floater and – at the last instant – flit a pass to a shooter in the corner. Or quickly accelerating down the left wing, snaring a bounce pass and mashing down a one-handed dunk. Maybe it’s something as effortless as swerving around a screen and laying the ball off the glass.
However, when I mentioned to Akins how he seemed to toggle back and forth between bystander and maestro, one thought is stuck in his head. “I was just trying to get guys involved,” said Akins, who didn’t cut himself slack during a camp hosted by Endless Motor Sports on the outskirts of Detroit. “I gotta cut my turnovers down a little bit. I had a couple where I was just doing too much.”
Doing a little bit of everything, though, might be his calling card.
Watch Akins long enough, and you’ll learn he can run the pick-and-roll, space the floor, shoot off movement, finish with either hand on an up-and-under layup and softly loft home a floater— all while facilitating. “I think he’s got the most upside of any player in this class,” said Matthew Dorosh, a certified NCAA scout and founder of Endless Motor. “If a school develops him physically, he’s a steal.”
It’s not lost on Akins, either. “The main thing is strength,” he said. “When I get to college, I don’t want to pack on 40 or 50 pounds. But I need to be able to stop some people. I don’t want to be a target on ball screens.”
That was just one of several topics we touched on during a 10-minute chat last weekend.
Matthew Harris: When I watched tape from your high school season, it was hard to tell if you exclusively run the point or play as a combo guard. What’s your role within Farmington’s system?
Jaden Akins: Freshman year, I was primarily a point guard, but we got a transfer my sophomore year. He was primarily a point guard. So we just switched off at times. Mostly I was playing combo guard. I don’t quite know how to describe it, but I just enjoy playing point guard more. I’m more comfortable there.
MH: What kind of offense do you all run?
JA: Four out across the perimeter, one big inside. We aren’t very big, but we’ve got a lot of guards and speed. We want to get up and down, play at a fast pace, and get open shots.
MH: Within that offense, what sets or actions do you think fit you best? On film, you seem to play with good pace and take good angles in ball screens.
JA: My best skill set is creating easy shots for open teammates, but when I’m coming off a pick-and-roll, I’m looking to be aggressive. I’m looking for my shot, but if see someone open I’m going to find them.
MH: It’s interesting that you say aggressive. Sometimes it seems like you’ll adjust the pace at which you turn the corner. You might let a defender catch up a bit. Is that aggression just your mentality in those situations? What do you consider aggressive?
JA: Really, I’m just looking to see whether they’re backing up. I want to see if I have enough space to shoot. If they try to close out, it’s automatic. I’m going by them. I look at their feet, but I really focus on what the help side is doing and who might be rotating over. I really like to make the skip pass when I can.
MH: When you run with The Family, though, you seem comfortable moving off the ball, getting loose on pin downs and curls. What do you like about that role?
JA: Definitely my versatility. Showing that I can play the one or the two in college.
MH: I was curious because your jump shot seems to be evolving. Overall, it finishes the way people would expect, but your hips sometimes get angled to the rim, and you loop a little bit into your motion.
JA: I’m definitely working on keeping it in my pocket more, just so I can get it off more with less space.
MH: Are you at a place where you’re comfortable making those tweaks and changes?
JA: Definitely. That’s something colleges are also talking to me about. When I ask them what I can improve on, it was getting my shot quicker.
MH: You’ve also seemed to figure out a way to create room: use a jab step to attack the outside foot of the defender, lean forward and force them to shift back and cross over to get to your left side.
JA: Yeah. It works. When I use my jab [step], I feel like that’s something they have to respect. They know I can get by them and use my quickness. So when I do that, I can get just a little more space. I’m really just starting to work on pulling up going to my left, too. I’m still taking shots [with the ball] in the middle of my face, but I’m getting better at it.
MH: When we watched you at the Elite 100 camp, what stood out were crafty finishes when you got into the lane. Your floater from eight feet to 10 feet looks solid. Is that a natural shot for you?
JA: Definitely the floater. I’ve always known I’m going to be playing taller people, 7-footers, and having that is important.
MH: Obviously, you’re getting feedback from a lot of folks – college coaches, your high school coaches, The Family – but what are some areas where you want to show growth?
JA: Kind of being a defensive leader when I’m out there. Just causing havoc on the defensive end, and when I’m watching film, really focusing on why I’m missing shots so I can make corrections.
MH: In terms of recruiting, we know you took an unofficial visit and that Mizzou offered a couple of weeks later. But how long has [assistant] coach [Cornell] Mann been keeping tabs on you?
JA: I’ve known Coach Mann since early in my sophomore year. He came to an open gym to watch me.
MH: What’s he like about your game at this point?
JA: My speed and my playmaking. I can score the ball, but I can also facilitate. That can work well at the next level.
MH: It’s obviously still early in the process, but do have a loose idea about the type of style or system you’re looking for in a program?
JA: I’m really not thinking about it that much right now. Just somewhere I can play, a place where I can shine the most and help a team win. Maybe get to the NBA. That’s always a goal and dream.
MH: You’ve taken some visits to Missouri, Northwestern, Michigan State and Xavier. At least right now, what position are they pitching to you?
JA: Xavier said they want to me to be the point guard, but they want me to more of a scorer. Everyone else has kind of said something like that.
MH: What are you really keying in on when teams reach out and start to build a connection with you? What are you trying to keep in mind?
JA: One thing I’m looking for in college is player development. From when I get there and then when I leave, I want to be a totally different player — a better player.
MH: When you were in Columbia, what stood out to you? Over the couple hours you were there, what was the conversation like with the coaching staff?
JA: At practice, I was really watching how they play two guards at the same and how they use them. That’s what I’ve been used to, and everybody [at MU] really gets scoring opportunities. I liked how how they do that. And they also have pretty athletic bigs, and they’re recruiting more of them. I just like playing with people like that.