Measuring Attitude in Akers

Jan. 17, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. - When the UCF women's basketball team was checking into its hotel the night before a game against travel partner Southern Miss in February 2006, freshman center Jackie Akers was soliciting her teammates for their last scraps of dinner. She had found a stray dog that was wandering near the Golden Knights' bus and wanted to feed her new friend.

"I want to be able to help others," said Akers, who is now the lone sophomore on the Golden Knights squad. "I like to be able to do things for other people because seeing other people happy makes me happy. It's like hitting two birds with one stone...although I'd never want to hurt a bird."

Once Akers lists the menagerie that she and her parents Marie and Jack Fulop keep at home in Naples, Fla., it is no wonder she has a soft spot for four-legged, furry creatures. There are five dogs - Sarge, Warrant, Chico, Missy and Benny - and two cats - Patches and Chris, most of which were strays before coming to live in the household. Yet, Akers' generosity extends beyond her love for animals to her teammates and anyone else that might cross her path.

"Being kind and respectful is something that we tried to instill in her," said her mother. "Jackie is the type of person that thinks everything can be fixed by being nice. We used to say when she was a child that Jackie will save the world if she can."

That attitude may well be what allowed Akers to land at UCF. Despite insisting that she wanted to be a cheerleader, she was persuaded to try basketball at age seven and fell in love with the sport. By the time she reached her sophomore year at North Fort Myers High School, she was an all-state performer. As a senior, she averaged 16.7 points and 14.8 rebounds a game. Akers worked hard for her dream of earning a scholarship to a Division I school. After weighing her choices, she opted for the Golden Knights.

"I really felt at home at UCF," Akers explained. "The team felt like more of a family."

It was a good fit. Akers played in 26 games with three starts as a freshman then seven games into the current season, UCF head coach Gail Striegler tapped her for the starting role at center.

"Jackie has really stepped up her game and earned her spot as a starter this year," said Striegler. "She has evolved into a solid player both offensively and defensively, which is important because she has been tested by going up against some of our opponents' best players." For Akers, it was something she had worked diligently to achieve. "I'd been working so hard to start," she said. "I did whatever I had to do to get where I wanted to be. I'd play pick up games at the recreation center. I found extra time to practice shooting when I could."

Although she has accomplished her goal to become a starter, Akers remains humble in regard to what she brings to the team in practice and in a game. In fact, her approach to basketball is inline with her approach to life.

"I don't really think of my contributions in terms of athleticism. I think my teammates appreciate that I can listen to them and help them out in arguments or with advice," said Akers. "On the court, I'm not so much about scoring. I'd rather contribute the little things like hustling down the floor or diving for loose balls. I think of myself as more of a role player."

Striegler agreed, saying, "Jackie is always the one that her teammates go to when they need something. She has especially been good with the freshmen. She is the only upperclassman in the dorms and they all tend to migrate toward her."

With her knack for lending an ear or a hand to those in need, it only natural for Akers to lean toward a career path that would enable her to help people. She chose to pursue family law with her mother's advice to guide her.

"Both of my parents are in law enforcement," said Akers, whose stepfather is a sergeant in the Cape Coral Department, while her mother is a detective in Lee County. "Growing up, I heard a lot of their stories- not the ones you read in the newspaper but the real stories. Being a lawyer isn't as risky. I still get the opportunity to interact with people and really make a difference."

Until she can change the world, Akers is content doing the little the things both on and off the court.