LILBURN - Tony Akins' professional basketball career didn't get off to the best start.
The former Berkmar and Georgia Tech standout began his career in Russia after not being drafted in the NBA. He spent less than two months there and didn't finish the season with the Russian team.
It was so tough for the 1998 Berkmar grad to adjust to life across the world that he didn't even know if he wanted to play basketball any more.
Six years later, Akins' attitude toward playing overseas couldn't be any different. He left this week for Croatia as he begins his sixth season of playing pro basketball in Europe.
"I love it now. I'm ready to go. I can't wait until my flight takes off," the 27-year-old Akins said. "It's a new situation every time. New scenery, new climate, it's just new. I love it."
For the first two years playing overseas Akins struggled to adjust to the new lifestyle. Sure he was playing the sport he loved and he was getting generously paid to do it, but he wasn't happy.
It wasn't until his third season when he started playing in Turkey that Akins' attitude towards basketball began to change.
"It just got to the point where I was like, 'I kind of like this now,'" Akins said. "Before being young you think everything is going on here (in Gwinnett). Your friends are here and you think that's what it's all about. Once you realize and actually comprehend that the world is so much bigger than just this area, I just really like it."
With his new outlook on basketball and life, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Akins had his best year on the court his third season. He averaged 15.9 points, 5.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds a game. His numbers are modest compared to what he averaged his senior year as he led Berkmar to the state finals.
"I've had a couple of 40-point games, but as a point guard out there you've got to pass the ball," Akins said. "It's professional now, it's not about having fun, trying to show off."
It's been a long time since Akins could just have fun on the court. The point guard no longer takes control of games like he used to in high school, like when he scored 44 of Berkmar's 55 points against Brookwood in the region tournament.
Before Gwinnett ever became a hotbed for basketball players like Louis Williams, Jodie Meeks or Gani Lawal, there was just one player who dominated the court.
"When I came out of school it was just me," Akins said.
When he left Berkmar in 1998 his 1,955 points career points were the second-most in county history, but now rank fifth all-time in Gwinnett. Akins was the first player from Gwinnett honored as Mr. Georgia Basketball and went to play college basketball at Georgia Tech.
At Tech, Akins was a four-year starter and led the Yellow Jackets in scoring his junior and senior years. He finished with 1,658 career points, 11th best in school history, and fourth in assists with 560.
A business management major, Akins only needs seven more classes to get his degree, which he plans to do in the near future. He hoped for an NBA future when he left Tech, but it didn't pan out.
When he went undrafted in the 2002 NBA draft, Akins got picked up by the New Jersey Nets and worked out with team, but never made the roster.
However, Europe has worked out pretty well. He's averaged 13.9 points, 5.2 assists and three rebounds over the last five seasons, playing for teams in Russia, China, France, Turkey and Poland prior to this season Croatia. He also spent a summer playing in the Dominican Republic.
"Overseas is different. Here in college and as you are growing up in high school people know you so you have a little clout," Akins said. "Overseas they know you, but it's more like we know you, but now you need to prove yourself.
"My first two years it was kind of investment years. I had to go back into the system and just really show that I could play and make it over there in Europe."
Going into his sixth season, Akins will play for Split Croatia, which is part of the Adriatic League, this season. The basketball season begins in October and ends in late May with the team playing about 45 games.
Once the season is over Akins has two goals on his mind. He'd like to start a summer basketball camp at Berkmar and he'd like to make the roster of an NBA developmental team.
"I hope next year to definitely get on someone's summer league team," Akins said.
But if he doesn't make it to the NBA then a life playing professional basketball overseas is not a bad alternative.
"I want to play until they tell me, 'You know what Tony, we can't give you any more money. You're not even welcomed out here any more,'" Akins said. "Once they tell me that, that's when I'm finished. I want to play until I lose cartilage in my knee."
Brandon Brigman can be reached at
SideBar: The Akins File
Who: Tony Akins
Job: Professional basketball player for Split Croatia
High school: Berkmar
College: Georgia Tech
' Earned Mr. Georgia Basketball honors after leading Berkmar to the Class AAAA finals as a senior in 1998
' Ranks fifth all-time in career points in Gwinnett County history with 1,955
' Started four seasons at Georgia Tech, earning second-team All-ACC honors as a senior
' Ranks second in Yellow Jackets history in 3-pointers made (301) and attempted (812), fourth in assists (560) and 11th in points (1,658)
' Has averaged 13.9 ppg, 5.2 apg and 3 rpg in five pro seasons overseas