When thinking of the best moments in recent college basketball history, UMBC’s upset over Virginia is often one of the first things mentioned. March 16, 2018 — a night that changed many people’s lives.
Obviously, a lot has changed in college basketball since. No one from that team remains at UMBC, but there are still a few pieces around college basketball. Many of them are in Logan, Utah.
The influx of Retrievers began in March of 2021 when Ryan Odom took the head coaching job at Utah State. He brought along his coaching staff, RJ Eytle-Rock, and Brandon Horvath (who graduated in the spring 2022). One year later, and after a stint at California Baptist, the only freshman to start that NCAA Tournament game, Daniel Akin, joined the crew.
“I was on the 16-over-1 team and that team was really special,” he said. “This team is obviously a lot better than that team because we have about five guys averaging double figures. Obviously, that’s hard to stop.”
That’s what Odom felt after watching some film of Akin in high school: that he was hard to stop.
Akin impressed at the inaugural Luol Deng basketball camp in England, finishing as the fifth-ranked player in the country. He impressed Odom so much, that the coach flew to overseas to watch Akin play at secondary school.
That was enough of a statement for Akin, as well.
“Coach Odom came down to visit Barking Abbey and then on that visit, I pretty much committed,” Akin said. “I knew that if he was going to come all the way to London to watch me practice, he was highly interested. That was pretty much my recruitment.”
Akin went through with his commitment to UMBC and made an immediate impact. He was named to the America East All-Freshman team while starting 20 games and, along with that, he was the only UMBC freshman to start in that magical NCAA Tournament.
He would continue to play well over the next couple of seasons, becoming a consistent face around the hilltop campus.
When Odom left to take the Utah State job, Akin entered his name in the transfer portal. Rather than following the coach to the Mountain West, Akin lived out a dream and made a stop in Cali, playing one season under Rick Croy at California Baptist.
“I thought it helped me just having a different coaching experience,” Akin said. “I enjoyed my time there. (Rick) Croy definitely helped me with my confidence of just being more of an alpha.”
He was exactly that, an alpha in Riverside. There, he put up career-high numbers in starts, points, and rebounds per game. He also became one of the best double-double players in the country, racking in 11 that season.
After the success though, he felt like it was time to go back to where he was most comfortable. He joined Odom at Utah State along with a former teammate, and fellow Englishmen, Eytle-Rock.
“I love to play with Dan. He’s been my big man since I was 15,” Eytle-Rock said. “It’s been special, we’ve had a good run together. He had another year to play and I had another year to play, so it was like ‘why not, let’s run it back one more time.’ Let’s make the most of this situation and put on for London, put on for England.”
Akin has done just that but in a different role than usual. After starting 94 games in his collegiate career, he has made only one start for Utah State. That hasn’t altered his production at all — if anything, it has elevated his play.
He has five double-doubles off the bench while averaging a career-high 11.8 points. On KenPom, he ranks 53rd in defensive rating, 61st in true shooting percentage, and 65th in effective field goal percentage.
It’s safe to say that he’s one of the best bench players in the Mountain West.
“We love having Dan here,” Odom said. “Similar to Brandon (Horvath), it’s fun for us coaches that coached him at UMBC to be able to finish it out with him. He’s really improved since he first came over to play college basketball. It’s easy to see.”
Utah State has a chance to add to its NCAA Tournament resume with a game at San Diego State tonight. The Aggies rank 35th in the NET but have yet to beat a Quad 1 opponent.