The goal of many is to be the best, or face the challenge, or pass a test, to be a winner, or beat the rest, to beat the word they call defeat.
When behind in a game at night, to come back and make a fight. It takes the mind, body and soul, to reach for our hidden goal.
Ulysses Anthony Akins
They say Pasadena's Tony Akins is poetry in motion on the basketball court.
He is powerful. He is dynamic. He has grace and quality. He can be humble and he can be fierce.
Yet his life is a tale of two personalities. For Ulysses Anthony Akins is driven by two callings that seldom belong on the same stage.
There is Tony Akins the college basketball player, who until last year starred on the Division II level at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Currently redshirting at UC Santa Barbara, next season he'll attempt a jump to Division 1 where he pines to be "the warrior" his alter ego writes about in a poem by the same name:
" Pursue the wind O Warriors of the heart; Chase the secrets that flow in its breeze. "
Akins, who must sit out a year after transferring, is itching to play.
"I can taste it," he said.
Then there is Ulysses, the poet, a sufferer who writes from the heart. He is a devoted disciple of Socrates. His first works were published two years ago by the American Poetry Society. He wants to write a book.
Said the Ulysses side: "No one appreciates poetry. It's a lost art. If I'd have been (born) in Socrates' time, (everything) would've been all right."
Akins rarely signs his full name to his work, preferring to use his first name only. He attributes much of the Ulysses side to his being a "born-again" Christian. He says it helps him cope more easily with the mysteries of existence.
In an interview, it is Ulysses who calls Akins "a loner. I don't like crowds."
But in almost the same breath Tony speaks of glory: "I love to win. It's always driving me."
These oil-and-vinegar personalities share a 20-year-old body that stands 6-5 and weighs 213, lowest in some time. Akins wanted to be a football player but was influenced by his family to concentrate on basketball. When he did, he discovered basketball had a physical side, one to his liking.
"I play like a linebacker on the court," he affirmed. His role models are pros Adrian Dantley and Charles Barkley.
At Pasadena's Muir High School, Akins was known for thundering slam dunks and monstrous rebounds. One jam shattered a glass backboard. He had a physique that produced points from anywhere on the court; a face so intense that his mother, Delores, says he looks like he is going to kill someone.
"It's my competitive nature," Tony explained.
Sometimes his two worlds collide.
He calls his tiny seventh-floor dorm room, which he shares with a teammate, "the room with the suicide view." From a tiny window adjacent to his cluttered bed, the only view is of a concrete courtyard. The walls of the room are covered with posters of professional basketball players. Akins leans gingerly out the cubicle's window and with a fleeting look in his eye points to the shady slab below and says: "Suicide view."
He hopes to live off campus next year. Yet the crowded digs, which rise from a grassy knoll next to Isla Vista on an isolated part of the campus, afford Akins the opportunity for long walks along crumbling, wind-swept cliffs overlooking the shimmering Pacific Ocean, away from the bicycle grid lock that grips this campus at almost every intersection.
"I need time away from everybody to collect my thoughts."
It is the quality of life here, he says, that inspires his creative writings.
Apparently he has been playing inspired basketball in practice too.
"We like what we see," said Coach Jerry Pimm.
Coach Dave Yanai of Dominguez Hills liked the intensity Akins showed on the court, too, and he was also partial to his creative side. A mutual friend introduced them, and to Yanai's surprise Akins, who many thought was a Division I prospect out of high school, chose to be a Toro.
Rourke Huff, who coaches Akins in a summer pro-am league, was taken back when Akins announced he was going to Dominguez Hills.
"He is very intelligent and an excellent shooter," he said. "He has a good, positive attitude and learns well. . . . He's special. He is instant points right away. I thought he'd go Division I."
Akins said Yanai's fundamental approach of putting sports in relationship to one's self was a key reason he selected Dominguez Hills.
"Yanai cares about you as a person, not just as a player," he said. "He cares about your life and what you are going to be doing 5-10 years after you are done with basketball."
In his senior year in high school Akins was encouraged by his parents to go to USC. But when Coach Stan Morrison left the school, that changed Akins' mind. With a desire to stay in Southern California, he turned to Loyola-Marymount, which had also expressed an interest. But that school was in the middle of a coaching change too. Akins felt out in the cold.