On Friday night, senior Akeem Springs and the Gophers got the tough news that his season was over due to an Achilles tendon injury.
On April 15, 2016, just 37 days after the Minnesota Golden Gophers had been mercifully relieved of the 2015-2016 season, some basketball-related news broke, though it wouldn’t quite register on the Richter Scale of the national media. Just over 330 miles away from Dinkytown, a young man by the name of Akeem Springs had decided to transfer for the second time in his collegiate playing career. The Milwaukee shooting guard had just finished a season playing 32 minutes per game for a Panthers team that finished with a 20-13 record, including 10-8 in the Horizon League. Averaging 13.2 points on 49.0% shooting from the field and 5.3 rebounds a game, the transfer didn't make national headlines or even crack the major headlines across Big Ten-centric media platforms. As a graduating senior transfer, he would be eligible to play immediately.
Springs would be heading to the Twin Cities to aid in the transition process between one of the worst seasons in program history to what many, including Head Coach Richard Pitino, hope would be a new, more successful era of Gopher basketball. Springs was considered a three-point specialist, who Pitino hoped would provide a veteran voice on a squad chalk-full of talented but very young players. What Coach ended up getting from the seemingly innocuous transfer was more than anyone could have imagined.
Akeem’s tenure in the Twin Cities got off to a rocky start when during the lead up to the season, Springs tweeted, “Looks like my time in Minnesota may be shorter than in [sic] thought. It’s all good though.” This tweet would also revealed that Springs’ brother, Dwayne, was a strong presence on Twitter who had a penchant for speaking his mind when it came to his brother and his status on the team. While the tweet never amounted to anything beyond being blown out of proportion, it seemed that the transfer guard’s time with the team would be nothing if not interesting.
When the season began, Springs found himself coming off the bench. While this could have been seen as a demotion and brother Dwayne was happy to chirp about his lack of a starting job on Twitter, Akeem fulfilled the role of sixth man with aplomb. He quickly proved he could provide some instant offense and spark the team if they were becoming somewhat complacent. No game was this more evident than when Springs came in and dominated a three-minute period of action late in the first half against Arkansas. Springs hit three three-pointers, garnered an offensive rebound and layup, and scored eleven points to successfully blitz the Razorbacks and put Minnesota up by an unconquerable margin. The eventual obliteration of Arkansas at the Barn would become one of Minnesota’s signature wins of the early season.
Springs would co-captain (along with junior guard Nate Mason) what would become one of the most successful Gopher teams in recent memory. Eventually, he would become a starter after a scorching run of play and the mid-season slump of sophomore guard Dupree McBrayer. Akeem would play tenacious defense and never back down from taking the big shot, even if he was ice cold as evidenced in the Indiana game. Springs had had an atrocious game, going 1-11 from the field and playing well below his usual standard. With time running out and Indiana leading by a point, Akeem took an off-balance three that was well short of the target. However, he followed his shot, and aided by a Eric Curry deflection, gathered the ball and laid it in for a last second victory.
While he was initially tabbed a “chucker” by many on The Daily Gopher staff, yours truly included, Spring’s 3-point shooting percentage would begin to creep up to very high level, ending the season at 38.3% on 5.5 attempts per game. Springs brought intensity on the defensive end and often into team huddles. When being brutalized on the boards against Michigan State yesterday, Akeem yelled at his big men teammates to, “Box the !@#& out!”
His impact on the unbelievable turn around between this year and last year is unquestioned. He wasn’t always the most efficient scorer or distributor but his hustle, attitude, and leadership proved to be contagious. While an influx of high talent players, including Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch, were a huge factor in the improvement of the team, it’s no coincidence that the Gophers won 8 games last year without a player like Springs on their roster and 24 (and counting!) games this year with Akeem leading the squad.
So thank you Akeem Springs. Thank you for choosing to come to Minnesota when I’m sure you had a myriad of options. Thank you for taking a chance on a team that had just won 8 games and the youngest head coach in the major conferences. Thank you for bringing intensity on the defensive end and swag on the offensive end.
You will be remembered as a key cog in the turn around of the fortunes of Minnesota basketball. So from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your contributions. We at The Daily Gopher and across all of Gopher Nation are sorry your collegiate career had to end in such unfair fashion but we won’t let the injury that beleaguered your end tarnish your impact on this program.
Thank you, Akeem Springs.