The addition of Akwasi Yeboah for Rutgers basketball has been one of, if not, the most underrated storylines of the season for the program. The grad transfer from Stony Brook, who Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell recruited there and then landed him this past summer a second time, has made a major impact on a team that sits at 8-3 and its highest KenPom ranking in years at 57th.
Yeboah came off the bench the first nine games of the season, before assuming a starting role the past two contests, both wins. His production overall has been impressive. He is fifth on the team in minutes played, but is third in scoring at 10.2 points and rebounding with 4.4 boards per game. He is the most efficient player on the team with the highest offensive rating of 114.4, which is 350th best in Division I so far this season. Yeboah has shot 49.3% from the field and is the best three-point shooter on the team, having made 13 of 30 attempts for 43.3%, while scoring double digit points in six of the eleven games.
The past three games against the best three teams Rutgers has faced, Yeboah has played the most minutes he has all season. He has delivered, averaging 13.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 steal in those three contests. His shooting has been even better, making 14 of 23 shots for 60.8% from the floor and 6 of 10 from three-point range.
His versatility has been a major asset, as Yeboah has proven he can be a physical presence in the interior, especially with rebounding, but offensively is an outside-in type player who can shoot from the perimeter or score near the rim. Defensively, he has been solid and has held his own against stiffer competition. Questions about his ability to adapt at the high major level after starring at a mid-major have been answered. He has been the most consistent player on the team this season.
After Saturday’s win over Seton Hall, Pikiell focused on his veteran leadership as a major key to this team. “He’s just mature. He gives us a maturity about him. He can really shoot the ball. I think he’s as good a shooter as there is. We can post him , we can do a lot of different things. His maturity has really helped. He gets locked in, he comes to practice every day, they love him. I think these guys are really enjoying what he brings. He’s figuring it out too with a new team. He’s been a nice addition.”
Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard agreed with his counterpart and emphasized what Yeboah brings to the court has allowed Pikiell to adjust with how Rutgers has played on the offensive end, making them more difficult to defend. He said after the game, “I think Yeboah is a bigger difference maker for them than they had last year just because of his ability. He’s such a smart player. He’s a veteran guy. I thought he was a bigger difference because of the way he can just spread guys out. The way Steve has kind of gone away from what they were doing earlier in the season and just giving it to Geo [Baker] in space on the floor and put a lot of pressure on your pick and roll defense. Having [Yeboah] out there, you can just tell he’s a fifth-year guy and just knows what to do.”
There is no doubt the loss of Eugene Omoruyi was something that took some time for Rutgers to figure out this season. Losing your best low post player who is also the team’s leading scorer and rebounder makes for a difficult adjustment. While Yeboah was added before Omoruyi left, some fans looked at him as a perfect replacement. However, their games are not the same and what Yeboah has added is a different component to this team, while also being able to replace his toughness and willingness to commit on the defensive end. For a team that has not been good from three-point range (29.4%) or the free throw line (66.0%), Yeboah has been a bright spot from both (43.3% from three-point range & 73.5% from the line). His experience and more subtle leadership style has been a plus as well.
On Saturday, Yeboah’s impact was in plain sight for all to see. His 14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists in a season high 30 minutes, as well as 3 of 5 from three-point range didn’t get the headlines, but he was a major key in the largest margin of victory that Rutgers has ever had against a ranked opponent. In speaking with Yeboah before the season started, he stated his only goal this season was “to win and hopefully get to the dance. Take it one game at a time and win. Make history.” If Yeboah can continue to play the way he did on Saturday, as well as this season so far, Rutgers will have a chance to have its best season in many years.