By AnnaGrace Hale | Sports Writer
With a long history of guards transferring to Baylor, both the men’s and women’s basketball programs have collected players that demonstrate some of the top talent in the nation. Between these Bear squads, there are three new faces that have exemplified this high caliber of play: James Akinjo, Jordan Lewis and Ja’Mee Asberry.
A player out of Oakland, Calif., Akinjo has found himself at Baylor for his senior year. Previously playing for Georgetown University in the Big East and for the University of Arizona in the Pac 12, playing in Waco has allowed him to perform in the Big 12 for the first time in his career.
Baylor has given Akinjo a chance to not only compete at a high level, but also find victory within these competitions.
“One of the big things on my list [when transferring] was to be a winner. Wherever I went, I wanted to make sure that I showed that I can win,” Akinjo said. “Playing with these group of guys — Kendall [Brown], Jeremy [Sochan] and everybody on the team, NBA caliber guys — just shows that I can play with them and win.”
According to senior forward Flo Thamba, Akinjo has only elevated the Bears’ game on the court. His traits of commitment and versatility have made him valuable.
“James is a big tool for our team,” Thamba said. “He brings grit. He brings intensity. He also brings commitment to where we know what to expect from him every night. He knows how to get the guys involved, so he’s a huge piece for our team for sure.”
This consistency most likely stems from his commitment during practice.
“With James, he’s another guy who loves to be in the gym and loves to work on his craft,” head coach Scott Drew said. “He’s always drenched coming into practice.”
The coaching staff, including Drew, was one of the main reasons Akinjo came to Baylor. He said this team has been a good fit because of the coaching staff and ultimately has allowed him to be himself.
Similarly, on the women’s side, the leading coaching staff, specifically head coach Nicki Collen, was a major reason guards Jordan Lewis and Ja’Mee Asberry decided to play for Baylor.
After playing the last five seasons at the University of Alabama and overcoming a broken wrist her junior year, Lewis has joined Baylor’s team as she completes her graduate degree. She said she was welcomed onto the team and into Waco with open arms.
“She’s made a huge impact. She’s coming in with so much knowledge already from the game,” senior forward NaLyssa Smith said. “She’s played so many years, she has the experience, you trust her with the ball in her hands.”
Finding success alongside Lewis, Ja’Mee Asberry, a junior transfer from Oklahoma State, embraced Baylor’s program. In an interview with Sic ‘Em 365, Asberry said after she entered the transfer portal, Collen immediately reached out.
“I was like ‘Yeah, [Baylor] is my dream school, so I’m down. You don’t even have to tell me.’ I was ready to be a part of this Baylor team,” Asberry said.
For Collen, adding Asberry to the Bears’ roster was important, especially after the guard’s season at Oklahoma State. With the Cowboys, she had doubled her scoring average and led the Big 12 in a multitude of offensive categories. Collen said she saw her as a great offensive fit for this Baylor team.
As these three guards have taken the court for the green and gold this season, not only have these players aided Baylor to be the first school since 2013 to have both men’s and women’s basketball programs in the top-two seeds for the NCAA Tournament but also the Bears have allowed these players to experience elite wins.
“I’ve been really productive scoring and assisting at other programs, but I haven’t had a chance to win a conference championship and really win at a high level,” Akinjo said. “I am so thankful for the opportunity and so thankful to be in the position that I’m in with these guys and it means a lot to me.”