NEW YORK — James Akinjo was named Big East freshman of the year Wednesday at the conference’s annual postseason awards show, held a few hours before the Big East tournament began at Madison Square Garden. Akinjo is the seventh Georgetown player to earn the award in the history of the league, and the freshman’s name was read alongside some of the biggest in the conference. Villanova’s Jay Wright was present to collect his sixth Big East coach of the year; so too was Marquette’s high-flying Markus Howard as he was announced as the league’s player of the year.
As for Akinjo and the rest of his Georgetown teammates? They were stuck in traffic.
The 18-year-old from Oakland, Calif., heard the news from his teammates while on a slow-moving bus to Manhattan from Brooklyn, where the sixth-seeded Hoyas were practicing at the Nets’ facility Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t have Twitter, so I wasn’t following,” Akinjo said on the phone as the team ate its post-practice meal. “I didn’t know what they were talking about. I was just thankful to have my team with me when the news broke. It means a lot, after all the hard work I put in this year. This was definitely one of my goals that I came here to achieve, and this puts me on the right path for everything. I feel like it just gets better from here. I just have to keep working hard.”
Akinjo, who averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 assists and started all but one game this season, was the Hoyas’ third-leading scorer and the second-leading in the Big East among all freshman in 2018-19. He is the first Georgetown player to win Big East freshman of the year since Greg Monroe in 2009.
“It means a lot,” Hoyas Coach Patrick Ewing said. “He’s definitely accomplished a lot, he’s grown. He still has a long way to go, but from where he was at the beginning of the year? It’s night and day.
Throughout the season, Akinjo proved himself a talented floor general in addition to being a reliable third scorer for Georgetown, alongside senior Jessie Govan and fellow freshman Mac McClung. He, McClung and the Hoyas’ third freshman in the starting lineup, Josh LeBlanc, showed they’re capable of taking command in games, as they proved in Georgetown’s regular season finale Saturday at Marquette.
Akinjo matched his season-high of 25 points en route to the victory that earned the Hoyas a single-round bye into the Big East tournament. Georgetown plays No. 3 seed Seton Hall in Thursday’s quarterfinal round at 9:30 p.m.
“Being so young, having to step up and lead right away I think was the hardest part for me this season,” Akijo said. “I had to work on that.”
As for why the freshman had to hear his big news on a bus? With the Atlantic 10 tournament underway at Barclays Center in Brooklyn this week and the city crawling with college basketball players, practice gyms are scarce. The Nets offered Georgetown space — “I had to make some calls,” Ewing said — but the only time the team could practice was 2 to 4 p.m. Not the friendliest time for traffic.
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