Editor’s note: The Star’s Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the 50 best athletes on the University of Arizona campus right now, with help from athletes, coaches and those close to the program.
No. 13: Rawle Alkins
The details: Alkins is a 6-foot-5, 225-pound guard from New York entering his sophomore season at Arizona. Alkins came up through the high school ranks as one of the most highly-regarded New York-area recruits in a long time, garnering a five-star ranking and offers from schools all over the country, including Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina and others. Alkins picked the Wildcats during a live broadcast on ESPNU. Ultimately, the reason he chose to play college basketball at Arizona was an interesting one — he saw them lose a game to Oregon at McKale Center during the 2015-16 season.
“The reason why I loved Arizona so much is simple: Winning is the only option there,” Alkins wrote in his USA Today blog, shortly after making the announcement. “I saw them lose to Oregon and it was literally like the end of the world there. I love that and I want to always be associated with winners.”
The numbers: Alkins’ numbers during his freshman season weren’t flashy, but he was an all-around contributor and one of Arizona’s most consistent performers. He finished the season averaging 10.9 points on 46.3 percent shooting and 37 percent from three, with 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
The value: Arizona was already poised to be a preseason Top-5 team as well as a perceived Final Four contender before May 21, thanks largely to the return of Allonzo Trier and addition of freshman DeAndre Ayton. Then, that day, Alkins surprised many when he announced he’d be returning to Arizona for his sophomore season, launching the Wildcats into preseason No. 1 territory. It makes sense — with Alkins around, the Wildcats have one of the most stable lineups of the Sean Miller era, with four returning starters, and Alkins’ size and skillset allows for Miller to get creative with different pairings using the bench.
Why Alkins? Alkins tested the waters for the NBA draft, meaning he declared but didn’t hire an agent, allowing him the ability to work out for NBA teams and explore his draft stock while maintaining his college eligibility.
Thus, Alkins was invited to participate in the NBA draft Combine and was one of the standout performers, scoring 18 points in his first game on 7-for-10 shooting while recording the fifth-highest maximum vertical leap (40.5 inches) of all 67 combine participants. He showed what he was capable of against some NBA talent, and returned anyway. That bodes well for the Wildcats.
Proof he’s good: Alkins’ consistency across the board — in scoring, rebounding, passing and defense — was vital for Arizona’s success last season, particularly with Trier missing half the year, but the quintessential Alkins moment came in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Saint Mary’s.
Four minutes into the game, Arizona was losing 17-12 when Alkins seriously hurt his finger and left the game. By the time he returned with 3:43 left in the first half, Arizona was down 24-16.
Less than a minute after returning, Alkins — who fractured his index finger, it turned out — corralled a defensive rebound, took the ball up the floor himself, took on two defenders with a spin move at the rim and scored using his injured hand. He would score six points and UA outscored SMC 53-36 after his return.
“In the training room, they have a TV back there so I was watching the game and I saw we was down eight, so I told the trainer and the doctor, we have to do whatever it takes to get back on the court,” Alkins said after the game.
“Then they did the X-rays and luckily it was a minor fracture. So I said, ‘I can play?’ They said, ‘You can play.’ I just taped it up a little bit and ran back on the court.”
What Alkins can accomplish: Alkins was a Pac-12 All-Freshman selection last season, and with some improvement he’s a good candidate for a spot on either the 10-person All-Pac-12 first team, or five-person second team.
Beyond that, Alkins will need to show some improvement in a few areas, namely outside shooting, if he wants to improve his draft stock from its current second round projection. Alkins said NBA people told him he can be “unstoppable” with a developed jumper. Plus, next year he can continue to rise as a fan favorite — last season, Arizona fans fell in love with Alkins’ ability to play through injury, and he started a social media movement called #SavageLife.
Coachspeak: “He almost has a gift where even his expression during the game is even-keeled and it’s fueled by his love of the game. I haven’t been around a player who loves it more than him. He really wants to be great and he puts the work in, and he’s really in a way been a pleasant surprise. With how easy he is to deal with, he’s been really fun to have as part of the team.” — Miller last season
He said it: “When I first started saying ‘savage life,’ I didn’t think of it as blowing up but right now everyone on the team is starting to use it, the fan base for Arizona is starting to use it, and it’s becoming a serious thing.
“It’s the Arizona mentality. It’s a mindset and it’s a mode that I get in before games. I can only speak for myself, but it’s different with everyone.
“You can take it how you want. Savage can mean a lot of things. It can be used in things other than basketball. I always wanted to play hard and play my best, and the word savage is the first thing that came to mind.” — Alkins