On his accelerated quest to reach the NBA, 18-year-old Canadian forward Emmanuel Akot decided to move to Tucson for some basketball development and classwork.

As a bonus, he also gets to become a snowbird.

“He tells me all the time he’s just thankful he’s not in Winnipeg, as it gets close to winter,” UA coach Sean Miller said of Akot’s chilly prairie hometown. “That’s a big change right there — Winnipeg, Canada, to Tucson, Arizona. He really appreciates being here.”

Akot was initially scheduled to spend most of this winter at Wasatch Academy, in the Central Utah town of Mount Pleasant, but that’s sort of cold, too. And, while the Wasatch basketball program plays a competitive schedule, it’s nothing like what Akot will face at Arizona and in the Pac-12.

So he moved here, having reclassified last spring to skip his senior season of high school and enroll at Arizona.

“I loved it at Wasatch, but I had to move on,” Akot said Wednesday, after helping the Wildcats beat Eastern New Mexico 91-62 in an exhibition game at McKale Center. “I’m trying to get better and make the NBA, and I think here was the place to go.”

After just four public appearances — two games in Spain, the Red-Blue Game and Wednesday’s exhibition — Akot appears to be on track. Already projected as a middle first-round pick in 2019 by ESPN, Akot came off the bench Wednesday to collect 10 points, six assists and a steal while showing the kind of effort and ranginess that has Miller saying he could be the team’s top defensive stopper.

Akot said he’s watched film of former UA forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and can understand why he’s drawn comparisons to him, but said he can make a difference in many areas.

“I think I’m extremely versatile and I can play both ends of the floor,” Akot said. “I’m just out there helping my team out.”

Fellow freshman Deandre Ayton called Akot’s defense “crazy,” and said he’s also a good communicator.

“To me, he’s a team leader because he keeps everyone poised and he talks to everyone,” Ayton said.

Akot showed off a little shooting on Wednesday, too, hitting 4 of 5 shots from the field and nailing both of the 3-pointers he attempted.

Akot shot 3 for 6 while missing his only 3-pointer during the UA’s two exhibition games in Spain in August, then went 0 for 6 from the field, missing both 3-pointers he tried in the Oct. 20 Red-Blue Game.

“That’s an area we’ve really been on him about,” Miller said. “He’s more of a pass-first player. He’s incredibly unselfish, but we need him to take the open shots when he’s given those and especially in the first half it was great to see him step in with confidence.

“He already does some other things — six assists at his size, that’s a great performance. … He has very, very good court vision. Some of the best plays you’ll see him make are where he passes the ball to a teammate.”

Rim shots

  • Former UA forward Chance Comanche made the opening night roster of the G-League’s Memphis Hustle, joining former Arizona teammate Kobi Simmons, who is a two-way player who will shuttle between the Hustle and Grizzlies. Comanche left Arizona after two seasons last spring but wasn’t selected in the NBA Draft. He signed with the Hustle as a tryout player.
  • Point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright went through early warmups Wednesday as part of his recovery from a sprained ankle, and is expected to play in Sunday’s exhibition against Chico State. Freshman Alex Barcello played 33 minutes Wednesday with Jackson-Cartwright out, coming up with seven points, three rebounds and two assists to two turnovers.

“He handled himself really well,” Miller said. “Alex is a really tough kid, he really is. He practices a lot like T.J. McConnell did. Every day he’s the same and he’s going to do nothing but get better and better as he gets more game experience. We’re really fortunate to have him.”

  • Chico State will return to McKale for a third straight season. Those Wildcats are a projected top-10 Division II team, returning four starters from the team that lost only 78-70 to Arizona last preseason. “Chico State will be an upgrade,” Miller said. “Chico State has a chance to win the national championship at their level.”

Sportswriter for the Arizona Daily Star covering Arizona Wildcats basketball