'I've been working on my game a lot': MSU's Jaden Akins ready for larger role as sophomore

Richard Silva
The Detroit News

Holt — With about 11 minutes remaining in the second half of a Moneyball Pro-Am game Thursday night, Michigan State guard Jaden Akins found himself heading to the rim with no resistance.

Instead of a layup, though, Akins elected to finish with a windmill slam, flexing some of the vertical ability he has in his bag.

He followed up that highlight with another dunk shortly thereafter on a fast break, tossing the ball off the backboard to himself and flushing it down with two hands, much to the delight of those in attendance.

"I just wanted to give the fans a show tonight," Akins said.

Rising sophomore Jaden Akins, right, has added 10 pounds in the offseason and could be in line for a starting role.

If nothing else, he certainly did that. Akins paired those dunks with four 3-pointers, including three in the first half, on the way to a 31-point performance in the victory.

It was a solid showing for the rising sophomore, and one he hopes he can parlay into a big year at MSU next season.

And the Spartans are going to need him. They lost three starters from last season to the NBA in Max Christie, Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham Jr.

Christie was drafted with the 35th overall pick to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, while Brown and Bingham went undrafted, but agreed to Exhibit-10 contracts with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks, respectively.

"With Gabe and Max leaving for the NBA, I feel like I've got a lot more responsibility this year and more opportunity. … I've been working on my game a lot and I'm ready for that this year," Akins said.

The Farmington native and former four-star recruit saw quality action in his first season at MSU, averaging 14.8 minutes per game, and is likely going to be asked to do more this upcoming season, potentially even replacing Christie in the starting lineup. 

"I hope I start; I've been putting in the work for it," Akins said. "I feel like if I just keep doing what I'm doing and keep grinding and keep showing that I have offensive capability, then I feel like I can be an option."

Akins said he was "a little surprised" that Christie elected to declare for the draft, but said he wasn't too shocked, calling him a "prototypical two guard" in the NBA with the body and game to be a good pro.

Working with Christie allowed Akins to watch and learn from the future Laker and pick out some things to add to his own game. Most notable to Akins was Christie's smooth jumper.

"I feel like he's a really good shooter and (I was) just focusing on his shot," Akins said of Christie. "It looks the same every time. He's really fundamental and textbook. I've been working on that a lot, just working on the fundamentals of my shot and my game. Making things simple."

In addition to the fundamentals, Akins also said he's physically bulked up, adding 10 pounds so far this offseason. He said this summer has been all about getting stronger, learning how to get to his spots quicker and just being a more efficient player in general.

Head coach Tom Izzo has raved about Akins before, comparing him to former MSU guard Charlie Bell, who enjoyed a seven-year career in the NBA after spending four seasons in East Lansing.

Izzo also said back in September that he was pleasantly surprised with how good Akins was, saying the 6-foot-4 guard was even better than he anticipated.

"I feel great about Coach Izzo saying those things about me," Akins said. "It just means that he believes in me and believes in the work, and he sees it. I think the sky is the limit for me. I'm never going to put a limit on myself.

"I'm very confident in myself and I put the work in to show it. So, I'm just ready for what happens."


Twitter: @Rich_Silva18