#TGW: And The Winner Is…

– Josh Okogie has always wanted to play in the NBA.

By the end of this evening, his dream should become reality.

The 2018 NBA Draft begins at 7 p.m. at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Okogie will be watching from Atlanta with his family. His wait may not be a long one.

“He’s going to be a first-round draft pick. He’ll be gone in the first 25 selections,” said ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas. “He’s definitely going to make it on the NBA level.”

Should Bilas be correct, Okogie would become the 19th Yellow Jacket selected in the first round (the 17th since 1989) and the first since Iman Shumpert went No. 17 overall to New York in 2011, which would be fitting, as Okogie, Georgia Tech’s 12th early-entrant, drew comparisons to Shumpert, Tech’s 11th, on NBADraft.net.

Okogie’s road from Atlanta to an NBA city, to be determined tonight as a potential first-rounder, is a familiar one. The 6-4, 213-pound guard barely made a ripple when he signed a NLI announcing he was attending Georgia Tech on Nov. 12, 2015.

Two All-ACC berths and a U.S. national team appearance in the FIBA U19 World Cup later, Okogie once again announced his plans to ascend to the next level, foregoing his final two years on the Flats for the NBA.

The announcement, again, was greeted with barely a ripple at first. But after showcasing himself at the NBA Combine then in workouts for some 14 NBA teams, Okogie’s future has created a riptide that has extended nationwide. He wasn’t the biggest name when he first announced, despite his performance in two years of college.

Georgia Tech’s NBA Draft History

It’s a script he knows all too well.

“That’s who I’ve been my whole life, pretty much,” said Okogie, who averaged 16.9 points and 5.8 rebounds in his two seasons (18.2 and 6.3 as a sophomore) and became only the sixth Yellow Jacket ever to reach 1,000 points by the end of his sophomore season. “I haven’t really been that guy that you always talk about, but I think my game speaks for itself. When I’m able to get in the gym in front of people who are watching me play, they are able to see what comes along with how I’m able to play and how I’m able to produce at a high level.”

He did at May’s NBA Combine, which led to Sports Illustrated rating him a “Stock Rising,” stating, “(Okogie) fortified his case to remain in the draft. His strong build and athletic tools are ideal for his role as an off-guard who plays both ends of the floor and adds a little bit of everything. He does have a bit of an on/off switch, particularly on defense, but when engaged he really stood out moving his feet on the perimeter. Okogie’s not a lock for the first round but you can see it happening.”

Bilas feels differently about the “on/off switch, particularly on defense.”

“He is just a bulldog on defense and is always in attack-mode,” he said. “He’s a fighter and a competitor. His profile athletically, is unique. He’s got crazy long arms and huge hands. His wingspan is close to 7-0.”

Okogie was grateful for Bilas’ assessment, except for one minor point.

“I don’t want to be a bulldog. I’d rather be a Yellow Jacket,” he said, with a laugh. “But I take pride in (his praise of his defense). I take it personally when people score on me and try to make sure that every shot is a tough one. I go into every game with the mentality, `I’m here to play physical. I’m not here to play cute. I’m not here for games. I’m here for business.'”

That wingspan has impressed everyone for whom Okogie worked out. San Antonio was one of several teams that invited Okogie back for a second workout, and he also worked out for Atlanta, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Denver, Portland, Utah, and Golden State.

“He’s got crazy long arms and huge hands,” said Bilas. “So for a guy who — he’d have to get on his tip-toes to be 6-5 — his wingspan is close to 7-0. So he can really extend.”

One area where scouts have hesitated is Okogie’s shooting. Although a 38.2-percent shooter from three-point range for the Jackets, he called that area of his game the one at which he’s worked hardest to improve.

“Shooting consistency, I think I was already a good shooter my freshman year, but I didn’t shoot that many threes,” Okogie said. “Just being confident. `Okay, I’m going to shoot more threes and kind of open up all the other aspects of my game.'”

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner feels there’s a lot to Okogie that doesn’t show up in numbers. One of those intangibles is his work ethic.

“He really worked on his shooting,” said Pastner. “He spent a lot of time on his shooting, especially his mid-range game, off the bounce. I’ve talked to a lot of teams multiple times, and I just think they’re excited about, obviously, his athleticism.”

Then there is his character.

“That’s part of the reason he’s moving so high up on the boards, is his character,” said Pastner. “Obviously, his play speaks for itself and his athleticism speaks for itself, but his character, his leadership, all those intangibles, he’s a tremendous culture guy. They go a long way.

“I’m proud of him. He made the Dean’s List here. He’s a phenomenal young man, he’s well-liked by everybody,” he added. “There is no entitlement from him. He’s going to keep getting better and better and better, and his best basketball is ahead of him. It’s sort of like you’re betting on the person that he’s going to find a way to be successful.”

Okogie is confident in how he can help the team that picks him be successful.

“My ability to impact the game, the physicality I play with, my athleticism, how much length, how much defensive versatility and potential that I have,” he said, “all those intangibles that you can’t teach.”

With each workout, Okogie became even more determined on proving he belonged and improving his game.

“It’s fun. You only do this one time,” he said. “I think just the thrill of going to a city where they think you’re this, but being able to show that you’re much more, that kind of excitement, that’s what I was looking forward to going to every city. Going to a city and doing something they never knew I could do, that’s what I lived for the whole process.

“It was a new kind of environment every time as opposed to everybody knowing everything you can do and you’re trying to just do what you can do. That’s kind of boring,” he added. “But my situation was like everybody already thought they knew what I could do, but me trying to prove that I can do much more than they think, it kind of got me involved.”

Okogie’s name has been quite involved in the pre-draft rumor mill. In ESPN’s mock draft, contributor Mike Schmitz has him going No. 24 to Portland, favorably comparing him with 2009 No. 4 overall pick and 2010 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and 2015 second-rounder Norman Powell, and calling him a nice compliment defensively with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Orlando would also help itself by selecting Okogie — assuming he’s available with their second or third pick at 35 or 41.

“If the Magic were to draft Okogie, he would easily become the best rebounding guard Orlando has had on the team since (Victor) Oladipo,” said Aaron Goldstone of SB Nation. “I think the best way to describe Okogie, wholesomely entertaining; he’s a run and jump athlete who seems to be everywhere on the floor. The brand of basketball Okogie plays is exciting, it’s energetic – it’s just a lot of fun.”

Chicago, which has the seventh and 22nd picks, also could be in the mix, and Okogie drew raves from SB Nation’s Blog-a-Bull after the workout there, describing him as, “…a potential high-motor 3-and-D wing. He flies around the court defensively, making up for his lack of height (6-4) with elite athleticism, a strong frame and plus-length (7-foot wingspan). He’s also proven himself to be a good three-point shooter. The Bulls need some defense and athleticism, making Okogie a natural pick at this spot.”

Even writers covering the back-to-back NBA Champion Golden State Warriors see Okogie as a fit.

“Okogie profiles as a player who could eventually fill-in for Andre Iguodala,” wrote Charlie Stanton Warriors’ writer for SB Nation. “If the Warriors can improve his shot, he could turn out to be a fantastic player in the NBA.”

Gabriel Allen of The Sports Daily believes Okogie would be a nice fit for Atlanta at 19, adding that if he were to slip into the second round, he could be the steal of the draft.

Amid all the wild speculation, it’s little wonder Okogie has unplugged from pre-draft coverage.

“I don’t look at mock drafts or read articles, anything like that,” he said. “I just focused on perfecting my craft and going into these workouts. I’ve always thought, ever since I started this process, that I have the potential to be a first-round pick. I really don’t know how my name is being thrown around, but I wouldn’t be surprised, because I’ve been working for it this whole time.”

Now that he’s done with the pre-draft process, Josh is perfectly content on traveling no further than his family’s living room and simply waiting for his name to be called.

“I’m officially done with the pre-draft process,” he said. “I’m glad with the work I’ve put in. I’d say I’m happy because I’ll be able to live with whatever results come my way.”

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