Akamune embraces senior leadership role

WKU senior forward O’Karo Akamune (15) and UT Arlington guard Jamel Outler (3) fight for a rebound during a basketball game between the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and UT Arlington at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (Jabin Botsford / College Heights Herald)

Tyler Lashbrook

Senior forward O’Karo Akamune spoke about having a players-only meeting after practice on Monday, but he didn’t answer when asked who initiated the meeting.

Instead, fellow senior Brandon Harris – wide-eyed, as if standing in attention – pointed at Akamune, indicating it was he who called for the team to “dig in deep”.

Akamune knows it isn’t his team, but he knows it is his role as a senior to step up when the team is searching for a leader.

The meeting, according to Akamune, was for the team to come “together as one unit for the last few games.”

“I just felt that it was necessary,” he said. “We usually have a leader and we had Jamal Crook (last season). We had senior leadership.”

Before the Toppers left for their Texas road swing, Coach Ray Harper said he hasn’t seen that constant leader with this WKU team.

“There has to be that presence in that locker room that’s a leader,” he said. “It’s something that you hope that your veterans will take charge and hopefully they’re starting to do that as we go down the stretch.”

Fast forward one week and Akamune, set to play his last home game on Thursday against Louisiana-Lafayette, has begun to take on that role.

Akamune has never been a scorer. His career high is 10 points, and he set that career best less than a month ago against Troy.

He only shoots when he’s open. He rarely ever calls his own number during the course of a game. He doesn’t publicly complain about that role.

What the 6-foot-7-inch senior forward brings to WKU’s basketball team can’t be recorded on the stat sheet. He’s second on the team in rebounds per game (4.7), despite playing entirely as a reserve, but his production goes beyond that.

Harper called Akamune an “energy guy” and has credited him throughout the year as one of the biggest factors in multiple WKU wins.

“He’s not blessed with a great skill-set,” Harper said, “but he’s able to help and contribute just with his effort and how hard he plays.”

When he takes the floor Thursday against Louisiana-Lafayette, the team expects that he’ll bring that energy with him.

“I’m excited, for the most (part),” Akamune said. “I’m really just appreciative for coming this far and having the opportunity to continue playing. I mean, there’s been a lot of changes with the program and to still be here.

“I’m thankful to God that I’m graduating and that I’m injury free to step on the court and play my last game as a Hilltopper.”​