Two of Michigan State men’s basketball’s issues heading into next season center around lack of depth and the need for a star to step up. The latter has been something missing since the departure of Cassius Winston to the NBA.
With Max Christie, Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham Jr. all departing the program for the NBA and Julius Marble II heading to Texas A&M, the transfer portal seemed like an easy place to try and address those issues. Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo decided not to, resulting in a flurry of complaints from fans and those outside the program.
“It’s hard not to see that kind of stuff because like, it’s out there, it pops up on our Twitter’s or whatever it is,” Michigan State senior forward Malik Hall said. “You see people talking and it’s just something you gotta know in your heart what it really is and work your way to prove people wrong.”
Proving people wrong will be the task put on the Michigan State men’s basketball team this season. Whether the nine guys who will likely be vying for minutes will be enough will come down to foul trouble and injury luck, but the stars have to come from somewhere.
Enter sophomore guard Jaden Akins, who is looking to fill that void after scoring an all-time personal high at any level 44 points in the Moneyball Pro-am versus his teammates Tyson Walker and Jaxon Kohler on July 12. Showing off some freaky athletic dunks beside some silky smooth shooting, Akins looked the part of the type of guy Izzo is looking towards becoming that star.
“I don’t know about 44,” Akins said. “I think there will definitely be an improvement from last year. I feel like I’m ready for a big season this year.”
Last season, Akins showed those flashes of being that type of guy, but ultimately needed a year of seasoning before being able to take that step after averaging 3.4 points in 14.8 minutes per contest.
Akins said he has spent the offseason working on his body to compete better physically at the Big Ten level in addition to improving his basketball IQ and fundamentals to help avoid some of those freshman mistakes from a year ago. Those three things were part of the reason Akins didn’t see the court as much as his fellow teammates at the guard positions like Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard.
Now, the coaching staff wants to see him make that jump.
“They want a big leap from me, too,” Akins said. “They want me to be one of the best defenders on the team and one of the best offensive players on the team.”
Being a star guard typically requires that extra gear, the extra push to try and will a team to win. In the first half of his 44-point barrage, Akins and his team were down by as much as 30 points at times. Akins, wanting to put on a show for fans, told his team it was time to bring it back as he willed his team back in it to make it a wire-to-wire finish.
As the clock dwindled under a minute, Akins wasted zero time as he pulled up from deep and nailed a three to get him to 44 points and gave his team the lead. While his teammate Tyson Walker got the last laugh with a game-winning layup as time expired, Akins wasted no time pleading his case as he thought Walker’s foot was out of bounds before the shot.
“It was out for sure,” Akins said. “That’s my guy though. They play before I had to shoot a three, I didn’t want to hold the ball in Pro-Am, so I just shot the three, but his foot was out.”
That extra spirit of competitiveness is something that hasn’t been around for a couple of years in East Lansing. Even in a small pickup game like this, the competitiveness was exuding off of Akins throughout the night.
Come November and Walker steps out again, Akins will still use the competitive spirit for his teammate and vie for him being inbounds.
“Oh, no,” Akins said, laughing. “We’re teammates at the end of the day.”
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