Babatunde “Stretch” Akingbola is a bit of a mystery. Playing behind senior centers Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore, Akingbola only saw limited action during his freshman year. Now as one of only two true centers on Auburn’s roster, what can Auburn expect from the 6-foot-10 sophomore?
For starters, Akingbola plays defense. In his first minute of Division I play, Stretch swatted away two shots against South Alabama, towering over the Jaguar offense. Appearing in 13 games, Stretch averaged 2.3 minutes a game but posted 0.4 blocks per game in that limited playing time. His defensive ability around the rim should not be a question.
“I love to block shots,” Akingbola said. “That’s my job. I feel like I am going to have to do that this year.”
Since he began his career in basketball, Stretch has prided himself in rim protection. At McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, Stretch made the All-State team twice, posting 3.0 blocks per game.
“That’s my thing, let’s put it that way,” Akingbola said. “I love to play defense. I mean, you have to be good at something on the court. If I’m good at defense, I can help my team.”
While defense is a point of pride for Akingbola, offense is where the young big man needs to grow.
Wiley was one of the best in the nation at pulling down boards around the offensive rim and creating extra chances for a team heavily dependent on shooting threes. His put-back ability was solid and is something Akingbola needs to emulate to keep the Tiger offense flowing. Akingbola is a capable rebounder, but improved skill in that area will only better the team overall.
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This year, the 3-point shooting will be no different for Bruce Pearl’s team. To keep defenses honest, Akingbola said he may even see himself getting involved in the mix from downtown.
“For me, I’m probably not going to shoot [threes] a lot, but I will once in a while,” Akingbola said. “Me and Dylan [Cardwell] probably aren’t going to shoot a lot, but we’re working on it every day.”
This offseason has not been ideal for any player, but Akingbola said he has had the time to get in the gym and practice shots of all kinds to upgrade his scoring ability from all over the floor.
“My offense is a big thing for me. My defense is kind of right there. I’m still working on it,” Akingbola said. “My offense, I’ve been working really hard. This offseason, we’ve been getting in there [the gym], every day after practice sometimes. I’ve been working on my inside game and my post-ups. I’m trying to make my shooting percentage 70% if I can this year. That’s the goal, and I’ve been working hard on that.”
As an extremely young team, leadership was assumed to be hard to come by for the heavily underclassman Tigers. Sophomore guard Tyrell “Turbo” Jones said Akingbola has stepped into an on-the-floor leadership role and is a vocal leader on the squad.
“He’s grown tremendously,” Jones said. “Him being a vocal leader on the court is really big for us. That’s his role that he wanted to take on. He’s been doing a pretty good job of that.”
Akingbola is a raw product offensively, with much of his skill set focused on defense. His overall skill set needs to grow, and as the young team develops, Akingbola will too.
For certain though, his towering frame and shot blocking ability will cause problems for opposing teams once the season beings. Auburn and Akingbola start on Thanksgiving Day against St. Joe’s.
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