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bsn BSN: From Belgium to Boulder: Thomas Akyazili is fitting in, becoming a coaches favorite

Discussion in 'CU Buffs Newsroom' started by RSSBot, Dec 14, 2015.

  1. RSSBot

    RSSBot News Junkie

    Jul 8, 2005
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    4,843 miles.

    That’s the distance between Thomas Akyazili’s hometown of Antwerp, Belgium and Boulder, Colorado but despite that long trip and a peculiar recruiting process, the Colorado Buffaloes freshman guard has landed right on his feet.

    “Before he came here to go to school, Thomas had only been to the United States twice,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle told BSN Denver. “The first time being for Steph Curry’s point guard camp. Thomas was the only foreign player that was invited, he played well there and got along with the guys there very well. Obviously, we didn’t work the camp, we couldn’t but there were a lot of people that did, a lot of information that came out of that camp that was very complimentary of Thomas.”

    For Boyle, who is used to spending countless hours in his school gyms analyzing a player’s every move, from his actual play to his demeanor in the huddle to his reaction to a foul, it’s not normal to have to rely on film and word of mouth.

    “The question was: is he good enough? You hope he is, you see film. When you recruit foreign players, especially as a head coach, you’re lucky if you seem them play once or twice, in Thomas’ case I never got to see him play live which is very unusual for me and very unsettling for me. So that’s why the people that you rely on in this business, you have to have people that you trust, you have to have people whose opinions you can go on. Look, recruiting is never an exact science, even when you see them with your own eyes, so when you don’t see them with your own eyes it’s even less exact.

    “It was an unusual recruitment because you’re not over there visiting his family, we didn’t go over and spend a lot of time with him face to face, we had to use a lot of emails and some phone calls to develop our relationship. So when he came to Boulder, the visit was key, our players did a good job. He visited during the Arizona weekend, if I’m not mistaken, so he saw the Coors Events Center, he saw the atmosphere, he got a feel for Boulder and we connected.”

    Connect they did.

    “CU was actually one of the last colleges to talk with me, but I just liked everything about it here,” Akyazili told. “Before my visit I started to really like CU and when I visited I realized this was the place I wanted to be.”

    “We were recruiting point guards and we wanted to sign a point guard in that class,” Boyle explained. “Thomas really kind of rose above everybody else in terms of not only his abilities but his maturity level and his love for the game. All the criteria that we have and the boxes that we need to have checked in our recruiting process, he checked them all. His second trip over was to make recruiting visits. He came over, he visited St. Johns and he visited Colorado in February and we were fortunate enough to land him.”

    After fulfilling his commitment to the Belgian U-20 national team in the FIBA European Championships and averaging 7 points per game for his team, as they finished 8th out of 20 nations, Akyazili made his way to Boulder in August and the bonds he built on his official visit picked up right where they left off in February.

    “It was pretty easy, these guys made it pretty easy,” he said of fitting in with the team. “I have great teammates, they’re always there for me, we do a lot of things together whether it’s on the court or off the court, in the locker room, we have fun and I think that’s very important.”

    He bonded with his coaches quickly, too. An average day after practice will feature a one-on-one matchup between Thomas and assistant coach Rodney Billups full of spirited trash-talk and laughter.

    The head coach is a pretty big fan of the kid, too. Akyazili was a pretty big unknown to anybody outside of the program but in his first few minutes on the court this season it became very clear that he’s Boyle’s kind of guy.

    “Yep, yep,” Boyle said when I asked him if Akyazili has the intangibles he values. “Toughness, work ethic and love of the game, those are the intangibles we look for and Thomas has all of them, there’s no doubt. Thomas has been a pleasant, pleasant surprise. We knew he was good, but I think the intangibles that you mentioned are what make him special.”

    What also makes him special is his level of experience. He’s much more advanced in his maturity than the average freshman, having played in top international tournaments and even playing 27 games for the Antwerp Giants, the professional club in his hometown. It shows in his calmness and composure on the court.

    “Definitely,” teammate Dom Collier said of if Akyazili carries himself differently than the average freshman. “I know from playing international ball myself that it’s really competitive and they start them at an early age out there, so I knew he was going to help us. I think playing for a pro team helped him a lot, you’re playing against older, stronger people every day.”

    His coach is happy, his teammates are happy, the fans are happy, so certainly Akyazili is happy, too, right? Wrong.

    “I’m not nervous on the court, but I’m also not happy with the way I’m playing right now,” he admitted. “It’s new and I have to adapt, but I’m not satisfied with how I’m playing, I think I can do a lot more for this team. I just have to keep working. I think I can score more when necessary, I’m not shooting the ball very well right now, I’ve had some silly turnovers and defensively I can’t make any mistakes, that’s my main focus, defense.”

    But he is happy with his decision to come to Colorado.

    “I like this team,” he said. “I like the players, the coaches, I think we have good chemistry and I think I can bring a lot to the table.”

    He likes it here and Tad Boyle, his staff and Colorado Basketball fans are going to like having him here for a long time.

    Ryan Koenigsberg
    Continue reading...
  2. Clean Undies

    Clean Undies Flagship of the 12-Pac Club Member

    Jun 3, 2007
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    Nice read, RK.

    Zili is thriving in Boulder right out of the gate. Can't wait to watch this young man's college career grow and blossom.
    RK likes this.
  3. JPinCO

    JPinCO VP of Quantified Self Club Member

    Nov 22, 2010
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    Early clubhouse leader for 2016 Glue Guy.

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