As Evelyn Akhator goes through her rookie season with the Dallas Wings, questions about her game pop into her head all the time.
Luckily for the former University of Kentucky star, Akhator has plenty of outlets to turn to when she needs an answer.
“(UK) Coach (Matthew) Mitchell was telling me, and (strength) coach John (Spurlock) was telling me about how short the season is, and when I don’t understand anything, I need to ask questions,” Akhator said. “The coaches here (in Dallas), they’ve been helping me through that. If I don’t understand something I try to ask, and if I can’t ask the coaches I ask the players.”
Akhator has never been shy about seeking help to improve her game, which is what led her to averaging 15.9 points and 10.8 rebounds her senior season at UK.
Those numbers, along with Akhator’s entire basketball résumé, were enough to persuade the Wings to draft the 6-foot-3 forward with the third overall selection in the 2017 WNBA Draft.
Despite the hype surrounding the high draft selection, Akhator hasn’t made much of an impact with the Wings this season, averaging only 4.2 minutes and 0.7 points. An early ankle injury and much-tougher competition at the professional level have hindered Akhator’s ability to contribute.
“She’s always working hard on the court but she didn’t understand how hard players were going to hit her and how hard you were going to have to hit other players,” Dallas Wings assistant coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin said.
However, most rookies spend their first season adapting to the differences between college and the pros, and anyone who has coached or played with Akhator knows she will continue to grow and work hard to become a great WNBA player.
While hard work can go a long way in improving Akhator’s skills, a way Akhator continues to grow, even on the professional level, is staying inquisitve.
“She (Akhator) asks very directed questions, she’s ready and willing to learn as much as her brain can take,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “She’ll be here (in Dallas) every day, working out every day — two, three hours — then going home and running on the treadmill, because she really wants to be great, and not for just this moment, but for every time she plays, she wants to be great at it.”
Another way Akhator will work to improve her game is doing what a lot of other WNBA players do in the offseason, and that’s play overseas in the Russian Women’s Premier League.
After the Wings’ season ends in September, Akhator will join the Dynamo Novosibirsk Region team in the Russian Premier League. That league has been home to several WNBA stars in the past, including Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi.
“I think me playing against them will make me understand the game more, make me know next year when I come back to play in the WNBA I’ll know how to play them and how to defend them, the people at my position, and just give me the experience,” Akhator said.
WNBA players typically go overseas to earn more money, and while the paycheck will be nice, Akhator is going to Russia for more than just money.
“I love basketball. It’s not about the money, it’s just all about the game, just to get game experience in,” Akhator said. “I’m a rookie, so I need to just make it through my rookie season so next year I can be on the floor and just contribute in a way that I know I can contribute on the court.”
She really, really wants to do well and she has an internal motivation that not a lot of players get.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Dallas assistant coach
Before Akhator heads to Russia, she will continue to work hard and contribute however she can for the young Wings team that is competing for a playoff spot.
Akhator and the Wings’ next game will be against the Chicago Sky, which is the team Akhator’s ex-teammate Makayla Epps plays on. This will be the first time the two play a game of basketball and not be on the same team.
“I can’t wait to see Epps. I played with her as a teammate now I’m playing against her,” Akhator said. “I’m excited to meet Makayla and just reunite with her.”
Chris Leach: 859-231-1326, @chrisleach250
Dallas Wings vs. Chicago Sky
When: 12:30 p.m. EDT on Wednesday
Where: Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Ill.
Notable: Akhator’s former UK teammate, Makayla Epps, plays for Chicago.
How to watch: The game will be streamed live on Twitter.