MISSOULA – Jamar Akoh’s summer was understandably busy for a student athlete who was entering his senior year.
There was of course the offseason training he participated in after the Montana Grizzlies were coming off of a season where they appeared in the NCAA Tournament. But there were two things most college kids can relate to that occupied most of his time.
Akoh accepted not one, but two internships over the summer to bolster his resume and gain experience in his areas of study. Akoh is a double major in business marketing and management.
So after weighing multiple options, Akoh accepted a marketing position at Draught Works Brewery and a management opportunity at Sheehan Majestic.
Both jobs served as a reminder that basketball isn’t forever. And at some point, his time as a player on the court will come to an end, and life will take a different direction.
“One day I just kind of woke up and decided that it would probably be good if I got some experience under my belt,” Akoh said. “I had a hard summer. Trying to balance my training. (Montana coach) Travis (DeCuire) and I would work out in the morning around seven, then I’d go work, take a break and go lift.
“After work, I’d get back in the gym and get some more shots up. And that was my routine. At the same time I was trying to eat right and all that so it was really difficult.”
An exhausting schedule to be sure. But Akoh made it work, and even got to brew some beer at Draught Works as well.
While the marketing opportunities drew him to the brewery, Akoh had what he called a “brew day” where he showed up at 6 a.m. once to be hands-on with brewing the beer.
“It’s a very complicated process and I really don’t remember all of it,” he said. “But it was actually really fun to see. I see how they make beer.”
“That balance (of training and internships) has helped for these guys to see because so many student athletes these days think the only thing they have time for is to play basketball and go to class, and there’s a lot more time in the day,” DeCuire said. “So for this program, Jamar has been an incredible example of what we’re about and what I want more of our student athletes to be about.”
And while Akoh has brewed plenty of success for the Grizzlies on the court, those internships are helping him take care of life after basketball.
But that’s to be expected from a guy with his drive and desire to win in life. With an outgoing personality, Akoh wants to learn and know as much as possible so he can relate to as many people as possible.
“I want to be good at everything. I kind of like to know everything,” Akoh said. “Everything I do I try to do it to my full potential. I ask a lot of questions.
“When I first got here, I did some fishing. I’m not a fisherman but when I first got here I wanted to see what it was about. So if I’m out around town, I can hold a conversation with somebody who’s a fly fisherman. I think that’s kind of where it comes from.”
Added DeCuire: “He’s a phenomenal person and I always think that’s more important than the basketball player. He’s goal-oriented and there’s a lot of things he wants in life and because of that he’s motivated to balance life on and off the court, which is what our program is about. He’s been a perfect leader in that regard.”
Akoh hopes to play professionally someday, wherever that may be.
“But at the same time, if basketball is not it, I’d be fine with that,” Akoh said. “Either road I decide to go, I’ll put my head down and work towards it and hope I can be successful.”
Hard to believe that basketball season is beginning to wind down, but prior to Friday’s practice, Akoh reflected on his time at Montana and how he’s grown as a player and person knowing that his time as a college basketball player is now on its final stretch.
“I’ve had a really good experience here. It’s changed me and everything I’m about,” Akoh said. “I know my time here is winding down but I think I’ve gotten what I’ve wanted to get out of this experience.”
One area in which Akoh feels he has grown is just his overall perspective on life. Whether that's being a kind person or raising a family, he knows the person he wants to be after his time at UM is over.
But a lot of that is thanks to finding a situation that is right for him at UM.
“When I first got here, just the kindness of the people here, how genuine people are here,” Akoh said. “In Missoula, people are easy-going and nice. And my coaching staff and teammates, we have a lot of good guys who are about the right stuff.”
Like many out-of-state athletes, Akoh had no knowledge of what the 406 had to offer. He knew it was cold — hard to disagree with that considering temperatures of late — but that was the extent of what he knew.
Akoh was born in San Diego and spent most of his childhood in Hesperia, California. From there, he transferred to Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga, which is a little over a half hour from Los Angeles.
After high school, Akoh attened Cal State Fullerton for two years. Akoh said the team was full of talent but it struggled. The Titans were 9-13 his freshman year and 10-20 his sophomore year. He said he didn’t feel he was being used properly and his biggest goal was to win in a place with a lot of community support, so he decided to look elsewhere to play.
“When Montana reached out, I really had no idea what they were about,” Akoh said. “I did some research and my mentor was telling me there’s good tradition there and I looked at Travis’ resume and he won 20 games his first two years. That popped out to me.
“So I came on a visit, loved it, loved the community, the coaches and my teammates. It felt right.”
And success quickly came. After sitting out a year, Akoh started all 34 of Montana’s games last season as the Griz went 26-8 and advanced to March Madness for the first time since 2013.
Those results were all part of the vision DeCuire pitched to Akoh when he recruited him. And just like that, his goals were realized.
“We had a special year,” Akoh said.
Those dreams were similar this year and even higher, especially with expectations through the roof as the Griz returned a huge core of last year’s squad. Akoh came into the season in the best shape of his life, having altered his diet while putting on more muscle and getting his conditioning to a high point.
But all of that was set back when during a preseason closed scrimmage with Washington State, Akoh broke his fall and injured his shooting wrist, which cost him seven games, all of which came in nonconference play.
Akoh has stayed relatively healthy throughout his basketball career, so the wrist injury forced him to miss a significant amount of time for the first time in his career. Akoh said it was a tough adjustment because it also happened during his final year of college basketball.
But since he’s returned he’s been arguably the conference’s most dominant player and big man. Akoh is averaging 15.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He’s tallied four double-doubles this year including monster performances against Sac State (21 points, 18 rebounds) and Idaho State (22 points, 17 rebounds).
But Akoh believes there’s even more he can do. Specifically, avoid foul trouble while also keeping his body healthy, the latter he does by being smart with his workouts and not overextending himself when he doesn’t need to.
“People tell me I’ve been playing really well, but I just know where I was at before I got hurt and I felt really good about the level I was playing at,” Akoh said. “I think there’s more out there for us and myself and hopefully that can keep us hungry.
“I don’t think I’m playing my best ball. (The numbers) are good but hopefully I can improve and be even better.”
“He was all upside. After talking to his mentor and coaches, we felt that there was more there,” DeCuire said. “We needed someone who was going to be motivated to come work on their game. I think he pays attention to details and that’s what makes him a good basketball player.”
The Grizzlies are riding a six-game winning streak and sit at 16-6 overall and at 9-2 in conference, good for sole possession of first place.
Akoh wants to extend the season as long as the Grizzlies can. And when it’s all said and done, he knows he’s set up for even more success.
“I’m just trying to take it day-by-day, and I’m very excited to graduate and have two degrees when I leave,” Akoh said. “That really was my biggest thing was coming out (of Missoula) with the most and I think getting my two degrees allowed me to maximize my time here.”