Never has been. Never will be, not when you?re 5-foot-11. Nothing has been given. Everything has been earned. So here it is, the next step on the ladder, the one he must take, has to take, like a calling it is, the step that lands Akognon in the NBA.

?Three or four years from now,? said the former Casa Grande star, ?it?s going to be very interesting.?

Of course Akognon wanted it interesting Thursday. He wanted to be drafted. In fact, he thought he had ?a 90 percent from what I heard.? Teams had told Akognon that if he was available in the second round, ?they?d be a great possibility? he?d be snatched.

Four teams in particular ? San Antonio, Portland, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers ? had Akognon work out for them.

Initially, Akognon had told his parents Emmanuel and Alfreda that he would be going to a movie while the NBA Draft was being conducted, that he couldn?t sit there in his parents? home in Petaluma and watch the television; the tension would be suffocating. Then Akognon changed his mind because this could be the biggest day of his life and, well, he didn?t want to be eating popcorn in a dark theater when it happened.

So Akognon stayed up in his room with his fianc?, Ariana Scales, watching ESPN, paid visits from time-to-time by mom, dad, sister and uncle. Waiting for the moment ... waiting ... waiting for the moment that didn?t come.

?It was a little disappointing,? he said minutes after the draft was completed, the flat tone of his voice concealing the flame inside.

Akognon has reached this point of his basketball life by ?being addicted to proving people wrong.?

He was told he wasn't good enough as a Casa sophomore to play on the junior varsity team. That was the insult that launched a thousand hosannas: a McDonald's High School All-American nominee at Casa, the Big West Conference Player of the Year at Cal State Fullerton, an Honorable Mention All-American in college, seventh in the nation this past season in scoring (23.9 points a game).

Thursday was the latest insult. Thirty-one guards were chosen in the draft, 17 of them described as being able to play the point. In truth, very few of those guards are natural point guards. Many will have to be trained if they plan to play in the NBA.

Many will not be able to make it, such is the talent-level in the league.

Akognon was a shooting guard in college. A 5-foot-11 player, no matter how gifted a shooter and Akognon is a gifted shooter, can?t play the off-guard in the NBA; too many 6-foot-6 shooters to defend and shoot over at that position. He has to play the point. Does Akognon doubt he?ll be able to learn the position? ?Not at all,? he said.

The reason may be very simple as it turns out.

?I have a chip on my shoulder,? said Akognon who began playing with that chip when he was a sophomore at Casa.

That chip has gotten Akognon through some tough times, like when he was guiding the plodding Washington State offense, averaging 10.3 points a game as a college freshman. He had to leave, made the bold decision and landed in a shooter?s paradise at Fullerton. That chip has served him well and he?ll need that chip and every skill he possesses because the NBA is a cold-hearted meritocracy. It is not sentimental, doesn?t go out of its way to nurture feel-good stories of 5-foot-11 point guards.

Akognon knows this and within minutes after the draft he was already assuming the NBA mind-set.

?Everyone is going to see a different person on the floor,? Akognon said.

Meaning: Watch out folks, I will play defense like a fiend and I will run the offense. In truth, Akognon wasn?t asked to do much of either at Fullerton, so in love the Titans were with Akognon filling up the net, and fill it he did ? he was second in the nation by making 4.3 three-pointers a game.

Akognon knows his Fullerton stats will be as useful in establishing his NBA career as what he had for dinner Thursday night. So within minutes after the end of the draft Akognon was on the phone to his agent, Bill Duffy of Walnut Creek. Find the best mini-camp for me. I want to try out as a free agent.

?I know I?ll get offers,? Akognon said. That means from both the NBA and Europe. Duffy told Akognon some European teams already have expressed an interest but Akognon never gave his agent a chance to elaborate.

?I didn?t want to hear about that (Europe),? Akognon said. ?That?s only as a last resort.?

Akognon didn?t get where he is as a basketball player by accepting defeat, by buying someone?s low-ball opinion of his skills. It is the kind of tunnel vision any successful athlete must have, the ability to elevate about the morass, when there?s so much temptation to surrender. Josh Akognon doesn?t surrender.

?I?ll do whatever I need to do,? he said.

He said that last sentence with the same conviction as he would say the next sentence.

I?m Josh Akognon and you haven?t seen the last of me.