You may not know Thunder hopeful DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell's name, but you should know his story
DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell used to sneak away during his college days at Eastern Oklahoma State, pile in a car with some basketball buddies and make the 2 1/2-hour drive from Wilburton northwest to Oklahoma City.
His destination — Thunder games.
Watching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson back then, Akoon-Purcell would tell himself he would be in their shoes one day. He would make the NBA. He would play at The Peake.
"I always spoke it," he said. "I always said it."
But still, standing inside the Thunder facility earlier this week wearing blue and orange practice gear, he marveled a bit at what he spoke into existence.
Akoon-Purcell has been on the Thunder roster throughout training camp, signing a partially guaranteed deal last month. As training camp concludes and roster cuts loom, his time in OKC might be limited. But his story is a reminder we should never believe anything is impossible.
He has always dug deep for his dreams, and he isn't stopping now.
Akoon-Purcell was born and raised in Orlando, but even though he became a top recruit in Florida, he didn't qualify academically to play Division-I basketball. Eastern Oklahoma saw him at a junior-college showcase and extended a invitation for an official visit.
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On his itinerary — a Thunder game.
Akoon-Purcell's trip was during the 2012 Western Conference Finals, and he got to see one of OKC's games against San Antonio. A week or so later, that Thunder team made the NBA Finals.
"Back then, I was a big OKC fan," Akoon-Purcell said. "It's just crazy."
Akoon-Purcell spent two years at Eastern Oklahoma. Moving from Orlando to Wilburton, a town of 2,843 in the mountains of southeast Oklahoma, was an adjustment. He still has vivid memories of the tarantulas he would sometimes see outside.
"It was terrible," he said of the arachnids. "But it was a good experience."
Akoon-Purcell, an athletic shooting guard who could score and defend, got several major-college scholarship offers. He initially committed to Auburn, but after a coaching change, he opted to go to Illinois State.
Two good years there led to two great years in Denmark. Playing professionally for the Bakken Bears. He was part of two league championships and earned MVP honors.
In the summer of 2018, Akoon-Purcell signed to play summer league ball with the Denver Nuggets. It was a sliver of an opportunity — most summer league signees are short-timers — he was arguably the biggest surprise of the NBA Summer League. He averaged 12 points a game.
The Nuggets signed him to a two-way deal.
Akoon-Purcell spent the first couple months of last season with Denver. He appeared in seven games, played 22 minutes and scored seven points.
It was a dream realized — he'd made it to the NBA.
He even made an appearance for the Nuggets against the Thunder, playing 33 seconds in their game on Dec. 14.
Two days later, the Nuggets waived him.
Akoon-Purcell was devastated and quickly decided to go back overseas.
"The money situation sounded so good," he said. "I was like, 'Oh, I'm gonna just go do this for four months and come back,' but it didn't work out how we thought it would."
Unlike his time in Denmark, Akoon-Purcell had a terrible experience playing in Israel and France last year. Paychecks were sporadic. Management was suspect.
"What was bothering me was really I should just be focusing on basketball," he said. "But if I'm not getting my money, I've got to worry about talking to the GM or the coach. So that's affecting my game and everything."
In retrospect, Akoon-Purcell wishes he'd stayed in the States longer after Denver cut him. Maybe another NBA team would've called. Maybe another opportunity would've materialized.
"I rushed into it without giving other (teams) a chance," he said. "I kind of regret it, but you know, it's in the past.
"I'm here now."
Wednesday night, Akoon-Purcell was back at The Peake for the Thunder's final preseason game. He's thought about those games he attended during his Eastern Oklahoma days, and he knows he's come a long ways.
"Now flying on the plane with the Thunder and with Denver last year," he said, "I look back, like, 'Dang, we used to be in little vans with the boys' and the girls' teams.'
"I worked pretty hard and got to where I wanted to be."
DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell knows he hasn't arrived. He still wants to lock down a guaranteed contract that would secure a roster spot, but as he looks at his journey, he doesn't see disappointments.
He sees steps. Steps he'll keep taking toward a dream he'll keep chasing.
"Always," he said.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.