James Akinjo signs national letter of intent to play for UConn

North Richmond native James Akinjo made it official on Wednesday — following through with an earlier commitment to sign a national letter of intent to play for the University of Connecticut’s basketball program next year.

Akinjo’s high school community cheered following his signing during a ceremony at Salesian College Preparatory. The hard-working 6-foot point guard was called one of the summer’s hottest recruits, a description that does not surprise Salesian coach Bill Mellis.

“I remember the first time when James came through our doors. We knew he would be a special player,” Mellis said at Akinjo’s signing ceremony. “We knew he could play.”

While many talented young players don’t rise to their potential, Akinjo’s work ethic both on the basketball court and in the classroom made him reach “the the skill level we thought,” Mellis said.

According to his ESPN recruiting file, Akinjo is a “true point guard who exudes toughness, confidence and leadership and “an elite on-ball defender.” Aside from UConn, his top five choices were the University of Virginia, UC Berkeley, University of Maryland and Iowa State University.

In addition to his star play, Mellis said Akinjo “has worked at his academics every bit as much as his basketball,” earning nearly all As in the classroom last year and this year.

“We’re also happy for him achieving his dreams,” the coach said. “We’re excited about watching him play at the next level.”

Akinjo’s aunt, Rachel Jackson, who helped raise him, said his story is particularly special given his background growing up in a low-income neighborhood who lost his mom at an early age.

“With all the negativity coming from North Richmond, here’s something people can look forward to,” Jackson said. “This is a kid whom lost his mom at an early age and was raised with his grandmother and auntie in the worst neighborhood possible. And he made it out.”

Akinjo joined two other players on Wednesday to commit to UConn: shooting guard Emmitt Matthews, Jr. and center Lukas Kisunas also signed national letters of intent.

Akinjo told the New Haven Register yesterday that he’s excited to play for the Huskies and already has “a great relationship with the coaches and players.”

“I can’t wait to get there,” he said.

Video of Wednesday’s signing at Salesian College Preparatory provided by Akinjo’s aunt, Rachel Jackson