Former Casa star Akognon will train with NBA's Mavericks

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Josh Akognon confirmed Wednesday that he will open training camp with the Dallas Mavericks in a week and a half. His decision to sign on with the Mavs was based largely on an old adage: It’s good to have friends in high places.

After a strong summer-league performance with the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas, Akognon — who starred at Casa Grande High before playing at Washington State, Cal State Fullerton and with several professional teams overseas — had been wooed by at least seven NBA teams. They included the Orlando Magic, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and San Antonio Spurs, in addition to the Mavericks and Kings.

What led him to Dallas?

“Mark Cuban,” was Akognon’s two-word answer.

The sharp-shooting Akognon led the Kings with a 19.3-point scoring average during the summer. And after one particularly strong game against the Lakers, he said, his agent got a congratulatory call from the Mavericks owner.

“He said he felt I could be a much better Eddie House,” Akognon said, referring to the 11-year NBA veteran. “He talked about how they had just lost Jason Terry, and they had lost J.J. Barea the year before. Those guys were not true point guards, either, but they were able to learn the position. For him to have that much enthusiasm in my game — no other owner was calling my agent.”

Akognon was a shooting guard in college. But because he’s considered short for the position at 5-foot-11, teams have been shaping him into a point guard for the past few years.

The project will resume Sept.29 when the Mavericks open training camp. (Because they play in international preseason games at Berlin and Barcelona, the Mavericks can open three days earlier than most NBA teams.) Akognon will be rubbing elbows, and perhaps trading them, with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, O.J. Mayo and Elton Brand.

Akognon leaves Sunday for Dallas. Four days after that, his wife, the former Ariana Scales, is being inducted into the Topeka West High School athletic hall of fame back in Kansas. Yes, it’s an exciting month for the Akognons.

As a non-roster invitee, though, Josh knows it will be an uphill battle to make the team. One reason the Mavs wanted Akognon is because they feared they were losing guard Delonte West to free agency. After the Petaluma native agreed with Dallas, the team re-signed West.

“When Delonte signed, I was feeling lost in the shuffle,” Akognon said. “But right now, I feel it’s more of a business decision. They have 15 on the roster. At the same time, you never know with injuries and all that.”

Akognon has a couple of safety nets. First, the Mavericks promised that he would play in two or three preseason games, targeting contests against the Hawks, Suns and Rockets as most likely. So the rest of the NBA’s scouts and coaches will get a look at him.

More important, should things not work out in Dallas, Akognon can return to the China Basketball Association. The CBA gave Akognon an out clause, a rarity in that league. He can void his Chinese contract if he makes an NBA roster. If he doesn’t, he can’t play for any team in the world but Liaoning (last year he played for DongGuan).

Which wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Akognon earns in the neighborhood of $100,000 a month in China. During training camp with the Mavs, he’ll be pulling in more like $23,000 a month.

Because of the disparity, the pragmatic Akognon considered turning down the offer. He was encouraged by his father, Emmanuel, and by long-time mentor Jeremy Russotti (his coach at Casa Grande) to give the Mavericks a shot. They stressed that a short-term financial loss could be a long-term gain if Josh were able to latch on with an NBA team.

“I have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Akognon said. “I’m really looking two or three weeks down the road, and a couple years down the road.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.