If you believe Dan Barto – and there's no reason you shouldn't – USF may have collected one of the steals of the late signing period with the recent commitment of power forward Teeng Akol. Barto, player development coordinator at IMG's Basketball Academy in Bradenton, thinks Akol will eventually become a force for the Bulls in the Big East.
"Most people have him rated among the top 20 power forwards nationally. Without a doubt, he's a top 50 kid in the country. He's the kind of kid that's going to get really good, really quick," Barto said.
For the past year, Barto and the coaches at IMG have worked closely to help develop the Sudanese native. And a quick look at their resume shows they might know a thing or two about talent. During Barto's tenure, IMG has tutored 42 Division I players – including a recent class that featured Kenny Kadji (Florida), Jared Swopshire (Louisville) and Akol. The Academy has also become a pre-Draft training destination for NBA hopefuls. Six of the league's top 11 picks in 2007, and five of the top 20 in 2006 made their way through IMG.
Barto thinks Akol, with continued development, can be just as successful as any of his peers.
"When he came in here, I saw a kid who was skinny as hell and could shoot it a little bit. But he's going to end up being a unique guy in the Big East. He'll be a face-up four man who'll be able to play inside-out. He's not going to be a power guy inside, but he's skilled, puts it on the floor well and has some nice up-and-under moves," Barto said. "And he'll get out and run."
Barto said Akol's path to the U.S. started nearly seven years ago. Representatives tried for more than three years to bring Akol to Our Savior New American School, a private school in Centereach, N.Y. that produced Konimba Diarra for the Bulls (2003-05). Getting out of violent and chaotic Sudan proved to be a huge challenge, but Akol eventually landed at Our Savior for two years before coming to IMG in 2007.
The 6-foot-11 talent has made big strides at each stop, but proved he can be competitive against high-level competition at IMG.
"At Our Savior they had four guys who were 6-8 or taller, so they just played volleyball and beat everybody," Barto said. "Teeng got a wake-up call here on the physical side because we play primarily a junior college schedule. It's been a transition for him. He's put on about 15 pounds and he needs to continue to develop his leg strength."
For a time, it appeared that Akol might need to return to IMG for one more year in order to meet the requirements of the NCAA Clearinghouse for college enrollment. However, Barto said all that remains now is for Akol to pass the standardized test, which shouldn't be a problem.
"We've had him in an intensive SAT course. The paperwork didn't come back in time for the May date, but his grades are fine and the ESOL (English as a second language) kids get extended time. We're just waiting on that from the NCAA, but he's ready to go now," Barto said.
As for the Bulls' recruitment, it seems the staff's persistence – and USF's location – made all the difference. Akol's most consistent suitors were USF and West Virginia. Kentucky and Indiana made a late run, but were never seriously considered.
"He wanted to be close to us to train here in the offseason, and getting game experience like he will at USF was more important to him than a coaching name or a program name. It's about him developing, and Coach (Stan) Heath did such a great job with Kentrell Gransberry last year," Barto said.
"When Kentucky and Indiana came in, Teeng said he knew they were only talking to him because other guys they wanted went elsewhere. This is not a dumb kid at all, and people from Sudan . . . those guys are survivors. I think Coach Heath sees a guy who can affect the game on the defensive end with his length, and can play the high-low and dive to the goal on the offensive end. He also saw a guy who's a little feisty and has some fight in him."