Our fifth Surge Spotlight is Akela Maize, a key mid-season pick-up for the Surge. Akela reflects on her experiences in the WNBA, Athletes Unlimited, and her friendship with her dog Scoutie Pippen. Click on the link above for video highlights of Akela’s interview or read below for the full Q & A.
(The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity).
You’re a unique case on this team, because you just joined us about 2 weeks ago. What was the recruitment process like for you?
Brittany Carter (Britt) actually hit me up first. Britt talked to Khalia and Coach Petra and told them she thought I would be a really good fit for this team. She reached out to me on July 6th and later that day I got a direct message on Instagram from Khalia. Khalia introduced herself and said she’d like to talk. It was a pretty quick recruitment process, but I already knew Britt so I was able to ask her certain questions that I wasn’t comfortable asking Khalia at first. After the phone call with Khalia and Coach P, I had time to talk over it with my family and then they had me on a flight within two days.
That’s a crazy two-day turnaround. What was the conversation like with Coach P and Khalia and how did they pitch the Surge to you?
It’s funny that you said “pitch” because they literally were pitching everything that’s good about the Surge. They talked about the fans, the team, and said I would fit in perfectly and I could be the missing puzzle piece. Hearing those words and hearing what the Surge are all about was nice, because at first I wasn’t familiar with the Surge. I had seen Britt post things, but I wasn’t sure what it was. It’s much bigger than the local league I was playing in at home. The Surge care about more than basketball. They have a lot of players that come back and work for the Surge, or people who have gotten jobs through Khalia’s connections. I asked some of my teammates who aren’t from St. Louis how they got their jobs and they said Khalia helped them out.
What were your first few days like with the Surge?
There was a lot of travel. I came off the plane on Thursday and had to go straight into practice and then the next day, we had a practice with a lot of running. We didn’t have a great practice the my first day, so the next day we went hard at 5 am. We were just running and running and it was a bit of a shock to me, not because I was out of shape, but because I realized “wow, this is a real professional team”. We aren’t just going out there to walk through the motions, but we’re getting disciplined and we’re getting after it. A few hours after that 5 am practice, we got on the bus and drove 10 hours to Michigan for our game against the Queens.
It’s only been two weeks, but on a scale of 1 to 10 how settled in do you feel?
Ten. I feel like I have played on this team since the beginning and you can see that on the court as well. I already have chemistry with a lot of players on the team. I don’t have a car so I haven’t really explored St. Louis, but I did go to Forest Park. It’s wild to me that it’s the biggest park in all the nation and I was able to see it. The girls are taking me to their favorite places too. They love Peacock Diner, but I got cinnamon pancakes and I thought they were eh. Later today, Big Shug (Shug Dickson) and Michelle are taking me to a local spot to eat called Vail’s.
Other than the way the front office looks out for players professionally, what has stood out to you about this team?
The amount of fun we are able to have. A lot of people don’t realize that overseas you can be on a team where everybody doesn’t speak the same language and that isn’t always fun. Being in the states is so nice because even while we are running sprints, we can all laugh and joke. I’ve really liked that part of being on the Surge. There’s no dead practice. Everybody’s talking, everybody has energy, and even at the games we are having so much fun and we are feeding off of each other’s energy.
That’s awesome. You and Britt played at Athletes Unlimited (AU) together. How do you feel about AU?
AU was very similar to the Surge in the fun part. It was really cool to meet people from different parts of life whether they were from the WNBA or they were rookies trying to find their way to a training camp contract. Being around so many players that you didn’t really know, but they could hoop, was really exciting, especially because you got to play with everybody (the teams rotated every week). I got to play with different point guards and shooting guards and see what they were all like. We were able to get to know everyone because we had three practices a week and three games a week, so when you are on a specific team you are around them all the time. We all stayed in the same hotel too and there was a great camaraderie where you could walk down the stairs, see a player, and say “hey, you wanna grab food?”. I still keep in touch with everybody from AU.
What were the most important things you took away from AU?
The most important thing that I took away is a better understanding of my abilities. A lot of players would tell me to do certain things, but I knew they weren’t my strong suit. I allowed them to change my game for a bit, but at AU I learned how to get back to who I am and what I know I can do. The other takeaway I had was that basketball can be fun. I’m literally going to say that until somebody stops me because when basketball isn’t fun, you don’t want to play it. You don’t want to go to practice. You don’t want to be around anybody. It just feels like a job, but it’s supposed to be a fun sport just like when you started playing as a young child. You’re supposed to feel that fun every time you step on the court. AU taught me that you can have fun playing basketball even at high levels.
Right. When did you experience basketball in a way that wasn’t fun?
All of my overseas seasons haven’t been fun for various reasons. Sometimes it’s the coach, sometimes it’s the players, sometimes it’s the environment I’m in or the culture. My overseas experiences kind of sucked out the fun in basketball. In college, the first few years weren’t as fun because I had injuries and I was still trying to climb out of the doghouse but, my last couple of years in college were fun. I always had fun in practice and I made sure that my teammates and coaches had a smile on their face.
You mentioned that you got back to your game at AU. How would you describe your game and what parts of your game are you focused on growing?
My game has always been defense first. I focus on the defensive-side of things and then that leads to points because if I get a defensive stop or a block, we can get an easy bucket. Rebounding is my bread and butter as well. I’ve learned to be more of an offensive threat and right now, I’m working on taking someone to the basket one-on-one. The other thing I’ve been working on is being able to hit threes in transition and getting the confidence of my teammates that will allow me to shoot those threes.
You played with the Phoenix Mercury in their preseason in 2019. How would you describe your WNBA experience?
It was super fun. I was starstruck. D (Diana Taursi) loved me. She came up to me after a practice and said “AK where was your energy? That’s what you bring, you bring energy”. She was always in my ear and I didn’t really expect that, because all the players know that not everyone from the preseason roster will make the regular season roster. She was still talking to me as if I was a part of the team, so I loved that. Then, Skylar (Diggins-Smith) taught me the nitty-gritty, do every little thing part of basketball. I was already a 50-50, loose ball person, but she took it to another level. When I was on her team in practice, she pulled it out of me by saying things like “AK we got to do this. We got to go get this”. I appreciate that part of her. I also had to guard Brittney Griner in practice which was crazy. It was funny because in warm ups, she would dunk and I’d be behind her in layups so everyone would expect me to dunk. All I did was try to do a fancy layup. I definitely learned a lot about myself with the Mercury and realized that I could play at that level. Before, I didn’t put my name in the draft, and the WNBA wasn’t my dream. It took me three years to get my foot in the door and once I got in, I realized I can be a player in the league. We’ll see what happens in the future as I progress my game and there’s expansion teams, but it was a great experience and I’ll never forget it.
What are some of your life goals?
My goal is to have a life where I don’t have to work a nine to five. I’m so used to being on the go and having a job where we only have practice or a game each day. When I did decide to see what else was out there other than basketball, it was hard for me to work 10 hours a day or to not have as much time to spend with my family. I want to be financially stable enough to have a life where I can still travel and enjoy free time.
Your dog Scoutie Pippen is all over your Instagram. What’s your friendship like with Scoutie?
I got him for Valentine’s Day. He was my gift to myself. People can tell that he’s my dog because he follows me everywhere. He even came with me when I went to France. He’s really been my role dog. I can’t go anywhere without him. I had to leave him at home to come here which is sad, but I know he’s in good hands with my mom.
Other than playing with Scoutie, what do you like to do in your free time?
I like to paint, do jigsaw puzzles, go to the park, and hangout with my friends and family. I have three nephews and one niece, who are all under the age of four, so I love spending time with them and watching them grow up. I’m a big sleeper too.
The Whisper Challenge: Akela wore headphones while I blasted “Party Like A Rock Star” in her ears. Then, I asked her simple questions. The questions and responses are below, as well as at the end of the video highlights linked above.
How many siblings do you have?
I don’t know.
How tall are you?
6’5”. I can hear you.
What’s 5 + 5?
Where are you from?
Sweet or savory?
While she may not have been great at the Whisper Challenge, Akela (AK) is a great addition to the Surge roster. On and off the court, she brings extra energy and fun to the Surge. We are happy to have AK on the team this season and can’t wait to see how she continues to grow here! Stay tuned on our website and socials for tomorrow’s Spotlight – it’s one you’ve all been waiting for.