The last time Gophers fans saw Akeem Springs he was dressed in a suit with a walking boot watching his teammates fall to Middle Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Milwaukee in March.
Springs, a senior transfer from UW Milwaukee, predicted Minnesota would turn things around by making the Big Dance in the city where he once played. They did.
Nearly five months later, Springs sees himself making a full recovery from a torn Achilles injury to be ready to continue his basketball career at the pro level this fall.
The 23-year-old sharp-shooting guard made his first public appearance since the NCAA tourney while holding a basketball camp this week with ex-Gophers point guard Al Nolen in Golden Valley.
In a Q&A with the Star Tribune, Springs talked about being ahead of schedule in his recovery, his NBA G-League aspirations, his summer impressions of the Gophers and more.
Q: How close are you to being ready to play again?
A: Even from NBA range I’m able to shoot the ball really well right now. It took me awhile to be able to jump and land properly. So I was leaning a little bit or I wasn’t able to get the elevation that I wanted to on my shot. Now everything seems to be coming back. And I’m starting to find my rhythm. I’ve got a long way to go, but I feel really good right now. I’m confident if I was put in the game versus Wisconsin and there was a play set up for the last shot I would make it now (laughs).
Q: What’s next in your basketball career?
A: My doctors said I can be full-go in two months, depending on how far I come with it. It depends on how fast I move. At that time I’m just planning on figuring out which teams would be the best fit for me. And I have to find out when I can do a workout and things like that. I think that’s the plan in two months when I’m able to start doing stuff. As far as the NBA G League goes, I would like to play there. I’ll play anywhere. But I do want to stay around and play for the Timberwolves (G League affiliate). It’s become very comfortable for me here. But I’ll go wherever. Overseas is an option for sure. But hopefully I can get something here in the states.
Q: What are your impressions from what you’ve seen from the Gophers this summer?
A: They’ll be better because of the pieces they added like Isaiah (Washington), Jamir (Harris) and Davonte (Fitzgerald). Davonte is one of my favorites. I think he’s going to shock everybody this year. So Davonte is another piece they add that’s going to take them to the next level. We have a group text message going right now. And they know if they lose I’ll be really disappointed. I don’t expect them to lose – ever this year. We have a group text going for the team that they let me stay in it. That’s really cool thing that we all keep in touch.
Q: Who do you think will be the Gophers’ most improved players?
A: I watched them this summer. The whole team has impressed me. I know the Gophers fans watched the (Twin Cities) Pro Am. You see the strides Jordan Murphy is making. It might not mean a lot to them. But when Jordan Murphy is shooting his three that’s something that is being looked over right now. I think it’s going to be a big thing for them next year. Eric Curry is somebody who has really impressed me right now. I’m kind of disappointed he cut his hair (laughs). But I saw him in the gym and he’s shooting the ball really well. Of course, the young guys have really impressed me. Their work ethic more than anything impresses me – how hard they work. I’ll sneak in the gym sometimes when I think they’re gone. And you’ll still see Jamir and Isaiah in there really late. So that impresses me.
Q: Who will take your place in a leadership role with the Gophers?
A: Nate (Mason). I think he’s ready for it. As much as I hate that I didn’t get to play in the NCAA tournament. I think what it did was it gave other guys the chance to experience the tournament and experience what it was like playing without me – how it’s going to be next year. They’re going to be better next year and hungry because they got a taste of the tournament.
Q: What made you such a good leader?
A: When I came into the game, I wanted everyone to know something was different. Maybe it was the way I talked to my teammates. Maybe it was what I did defensively. I just tried to make sure everybody was extremely confident on the court. I would tell people to keep shooting the ball, not to hesitate and to do their thing. That’s what I tried to do when I was on the court to make sure everybody was extremely confident. I wanted everyone who was watching to notice something changed when I was in there. I think I accomplished that, so I was pretty proud of it.
Q: What do you cherish most from your one season at the U?
A: For myself, I gained the knowledge that I can become whoever I want to become as a basketball player. It was really exciting to me because everybody was saying, ‘Akeem’s a shooter.’ If anyone watched my other seasons (at Northern Illinois and Milwaukee) I was the exact opposite (a slasher). This year I became I guy who just stretched the floor. You had guys like Nate Mason, Dupree (McBrayer) and Amir (Coffey) who can shoot the ball, but when they have space (to drive) they’re extremely dangerous. I became a catch-and-shoot guy. Some of the shots I had I wouldn’t dream of shooting in the past. Some of the transition threes I did naturally last season were something I didn’t do at all before. That’s the encouraging thing for me. I gained the knowledge that I have so many parts of my game I can use, especially going to the next level. It’s nice to have a jump shot and be a shooter. But I didn’t know looking back previous years. But I have so much more to my game now. That was the biggest thing I got from playing here was exposure for sure. And I love the Gophers fans. Everywhere I go it seems like somebody knows me. It’s pretty cool.
Q: How difficult was it to have your senior season end so abruptly before March Madness?
A: Right after surgery was the hardest part because I was literally in my room for like 10 days straight. That was a tough part just learning how to move around in my scooter. Not being able to walk for two months. I was in a cast for two months. The tough part was not being able to get up and play. Basketball is everything to me. Whenever I’m going through anything, it’s always good to be able to go and shoot. I didn’t have that. So it was kind of tough for me dealing with that.
Q: What was your initial timeline for a full recovery?
A: Once I started to get rolling and out of my boot and into rehab I got more excited. I felt like I actually was able to make progress. I tried to make progress toward getting back. The surgery was March 21. Basically we didn’t talk about timeline about getting back to play, as much as I tried to break it down into how long I would be in a cast and in a boot. That’s what I was focusing on. That was my timeline. My doctor did a great job. He kept me in the cast and in the boot longer than a lot of people say is needed. I think that actually helped me with how I’m recovering. Some of the stuff that I’m able to do four months out is pretty impressive to me. I didn’t think I’d be here this fast.
Q: What has rehab been like?
A: A bunch of one-legged shots at first. Once I was out of the boot, doctors told me what I could do. My days were up and down. On good days, I was in there about four hours. And then my next day would suck. But once I got out of the boot, I was in rehab five days a week. My athletic trainer, Ben (Felz), he’s great. I’m excited to be able to really do workouts now. I’m probably overdoing it body-wise. But I’ll be fine. I feel like I’ve missed so much time in the gym. For what I’m trying to do I’ve always been a (repetition) guy. So I have to make up all the time and all the reps that I know I missed not being able to get in the gym and shoot. That’s why sometimes I’m in there from morning to morning it feels like getting my shots up.
Q: Your brother was in an accident you seemed pretty scared about on social media. How is he doing?
A: He got into a car crash and he broke his femur. He’s doing really well. He’s walking now. It’s kind of ironic how me and him both got hurt and were recovering the same time. But he’s doing well. He has his own clothing line (Black God Clothing) and he’s going full speed with that.
Q: How close are you to getting your master’s degree?
A: I have a few more classes. I think about 12 more credits, then I’ll have my master’s in youth development. So I’m excited about that. I would love to be a head coach one day. I love to have an effect on young kids or anyone who I’m working with. I’ve been working with a few kids who are doing really well right now. I like finding guys who want to work really hard. I tell them anytime they want to get in the gym to just call me. After basketball I’ll want to coach because I’ll always want to be in the gym. I’ll always want to teach kids and show them they can’t shoot better than me (laughs). I think that would definitely be fun for me.