UConn Basketball: What the Akok Akok injury means going forward

UConn Basketball suffered one of their worst blows of the season when Akok Akok went down with a likely season-ending injury.

On Sunday afternoon, UConn Basketball picked up a big win, rallying to defeat the Memphis Tigers at home. But they endured an even bigger loss, losing Akok Akok to a serious injury.

The freshman forward from Manchester, New Hampshire went down less than a minute into Sunday’s contest while trying to make a play at the rim. He hobbled into the locker room but returned to the bench with crutches and a walking boot, destined for a trip to the hospital after watching his team emerge victorious.

Akok was emotional on the bench, with good reason: early reports suggest he may have torn his Achilles.

More information will come out in the coming days, but his freshman season is likely over. Akok isn’t a star freshman like some of his counterparts on the Tigers, but he has emerged as an important rotation piece for Dan Hurley. He’s averaging 6.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and a truly impressive 2.7 blocks per game. Akok has a substantial lead over Houston’s Chris Harris Jr. as the AAC’s leading blocker.

UConn has shown an ability this season to compete even when faced with disastrous injuries. Last month, Tyler Polley tore his ACL, ending a season where the forward was averaging 9.5 points per game, scoring 19 against Tulane in his final game of the year. The Huskies lost four straight after that, but are now 4-2 in their last six games, including a home win over Cincinnati and road win at Tulsa.

Still, the number of scholarship players on Hurley’s roster continues to dwindle (the Hartford Courant puts that number at eight). Freshman James Bouknight has reached a new level in the last five games, scoring no less than 17 points in each of those contests. But the amount of help surrounding him outside of Christian Vital is dwindling.

How much of that matters for the 2019-20 season is up for debate. The Huskies have clawed back over .500 overall, but remain under .500 in AAC play and would likely need to win the AAC Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament in March. The conference is wide-open, but that doesn’t feel like a likely scenario.

A torn Achilles, however, can have a recovery timeline measured in months, not weeks. In fact, it can sometimes take a year to recover from the injury, putting the 2020-21 season in jeopardy for Akok as well. Next year – Hurley’s third in Storrs – is set to be a critical one for the Huskies. With only two seniors on this year’s roster, UConn should be able to return a team with the ability to compete for a Big East title and make their first NCAA Tournament since 2016.

Akok’s injury throws that possibility into deep turmoil.

Akok will undergo an MRI on Monday, which should reveal more information about the injury. But the whispers around the freshman right now suggest UConn fans should prepare for the worst.

The journey ahead following Akok Akok’s Achilles injury could be a long one for the Huskies.