Times Sports Editor
If you're a high school point guard, being offered the chance to play collegiately under scholarship is one that you'd likely relish. If you have the shot to play for a team that gets up and down the floor, averaged 76 ppg. last season and scored more than 90 points six different times, than it's a good bet that your pretty excited.
Northview senior Austin Akers has plenty to look forward to next year after signing his letter-of-intent to play basketball for the Olney Central Blue Knights.
Located in Olney, Ill., the Knights have previously dipped into the local talent pool to bring in Shakamak High School graduate, Jared Rehmel.
As Akers matured in his skill set, he remained somewhat under the radar to larger schools, but it wasn't surprising that he drew the attention of Olney Central coach Michael Burris.
Rehmel's former high school coach, Ernie Maesch, is now with the Northview Knights and was familiar with the Olney program. Burris in turn was quite excited to gain the services of Akers.
"There were a lot of reasons we were drawn to Austin, Burris said. "Number one, coach (Ernie) Maesch does a great job. We've had a former player of his (Jared Rehmel) who had great success and he was well prepared to play at the college level. Number two, Austin is a great kid from a great family and number three is he has a lot of ability to play the game of basketball. We felt he was a little under recruited as where he was going to play. We think he can play Division I basketball and we feel he can come into our place and prove he can play Division I basketball."
Akers, a 6'2 point guard for Northview this season, averaged 17.1 ppg. for the Knights, averaged more than three assists per game and was also one of the team's leading rebounders his senior season. He was recently selected to the Top-60 Workout, which is for the top-60 senior basketball players in Indiana.
"It's a real honor to be recognized among the best players in the state of Indiana and I developed a lot of friendships with players and coaches that will last a lifetime," Akers said. "
This season Akers was named Third-Team All-State by Hoosier Basketball Magazine and was also selected to the Honorable Mention All-State Team by the Associated Press and the Indiana High School Basketball Coaches Association. The senior is a two-time selection to the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic All-Tourney Team and will earn a combined 10 letters in golf, tennis and basketball.
That versatility of athleticism went to good use during the basketball season where he had a variety of roles during his prep career.
This year he was forced to look to score more than in previous years and he excelled in that role while still distributing the basketball.
"I think what Austin does is he makes the right play every time down the floor," Maesch said. "I think he could have scored a lot more points for us, but he was very unselfish and got our other players involved and made them better, which is why he's able to play at the next level and I think you'll see him go on and play Division I. You know, a lot of guys will just look out for themselves sometimes and Austin would do a great job at making the right play each time and that's what point guards are all about.
"I think he'll just excel in the Olney Central program. It's going to be a great future for him," Maesch added.
Maesch also pointed out that what makes Akers a collegiate guard is the balance to his game, especially on the offensive end.
"His ability to see the floor, his physical strength overall at that position is just phenomenal. He can shoot the basketball and he can just break you down, he doesn't have a lot of weaknesses offensively," Maesch said. "Usually, you've seen in the Wabash Valley, there are players that maybe they can penetrate and not shoot it well or shoot it well, but can't penetrate. I think Austin brings all that to the table. He just needs a little more exposure and to play against that caliber of players for a year or two and I think you'll see him be able to do great things."
Burris agreed that Akers will be able to compete for a starting position immediately after the team graduated eight players from a team that won 20 games for the first time since 2002-03.
"We think he'll fit in perfectly. He can come in and play the point guard spot for us, but he also has the ability to score the basketball and we'll ask him to do both for us," Burris said. "We play a lot of two point guards at a time and push the basketball up the floor and he fits that mold. He's an athletic kid that can shoot the three, get to the rim. We run a similar offense to the one that Coach Ernie (Maesch) ran.
"As far as an adjustment to be made, it'll just be the great competition day in and day out. He's going to have a lot of great pieces around him to be successful," Burris continued.
Rehmel, who was runner-up for Great River Athletic Conference Player of the Year, will take his talents to the next level while Ahmad Grant and Ryan Daniels will also move on after earning Second-Team All-Region honors.
"We lose eight guys and we've had three Division I guys sign and we're getting ready to have two more and then we had another kid walk on at Southern Indiana," Burris said of next year's openings. "We'll probably have at least four Division I signees this year."
The opportunity to play for a program that develops players for the next level is something that drew Akers to the Olney Central program.
"I know first hand they've worked with their better players to get them to the next level," Akers said. "Jared Rehmel of Shakamak was not highly recruited coming out of high school, but played for OCC and was recently named the top junior college basketball player in Illinois. I have all the confidence in the OCC coaching staff and I am ready to lead them to the top of the GRAC," Akers said.