By Jon Cooper
Josh Okogie has rings on his mind.
An All-ACC guard at Georgia Tech (2016-18) before being selected with the 20th overall pick as an early entrant in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Okogie has his mind set on six rings. There’s the one he’s currently going after with the T-Wolves as an NBA champion and the five Olympic rings he’ll shoot for next year with his native Nigeria.
He really went to work double-dream chasing back in the summer.
“I did a lot of things, worked on a lot,” he said. “I also did Summer League, did (FIBA) World Cup, traveled a lot playing basketball. I just tried to build on what I did last year.”
Okogie built quite a foundation last year as a rookie in Minnesota. He averaged 7.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals in 23.7 minutes in 74 games, and he appeared for Team World in the MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars Game at All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, going for 13 points and four assists. In the 2019 portion of the regular season, he started all 45 of Minnesota’s games, scoring 8.5 points, with 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.4 steals, in 26.7 minutes.
As at Tech, Josh used his length to make his presence felt on the defensive end, as he finished second among rookies in steals (88) and ninth in blocks (33). His 88 thefts were fourth-best in a season by a T-Wolves rookie and on March 10 against New York, he became only the fifth Minnesota rookie to record three steals and three blocks in the same game.
His lockdown defense even got him on SportsCenter on Feb. 13, after going one-on-one with Houston Rockets’ offensive machine James Harden, sticking with him, then smothering his step-back jumper, go jump-start the Wolves in their 121-111 win at Target Center.
Okogie, of course, plays it down.
“In basketball, you get blocked and you block shots,” he said. “I thought it was just a regular block. It wasn’t until after the game I realized how big everybody made it. To me, it was just a regular block.”
His second pro season has seen him improve his scoring (up to 8.5 ppg), his shooting percentage (.436, 50 points higher) and rebounds per game (5.1 up from 2.9). The boost in contributions and added experience are welcome on a T-Wolves team that started the year with the NBA’s fourth-youngest roster (24.91) and fourth-least experienced (3.40). He’s still the fourth-youngest player on the team.
On Monday night, Okogie was determined to play through pain in his left knee that had forced him to sit out the Wolves’ previous game. He felt a good game coming in the city where he’d thrived a little more than two miles down the road, and in the building where last year he scored 15 points (4-for-9 shooting, 2-for-6 from three, 5-for-6 from the line) with four boards, two steals and a block in 32:43.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the rehab or because of the city, but my knees feel pretty good today,” he said with a laugh at the morning shootaround, despite being on the hook for an estimated 40 tickets for family and friends. “Playing in Atlanta is fun. There’s a lot of energy in the city — family, friends, teammates, everybody’s going to be in attendance. It’s going to be fun.”
Atlanta had been fun in the past for Okogie.
As a freshman, he was four-time ACC Rookie of the Week and made the ACC’s All-Freshman team, and was named to the All-ACC third team as a sophomore, scoring more points over his two years than any Tech player since Matt Harping in the late 1990s. Harpring was selected 15th overall 20 years earlier by the Orlando Magic and played 11 years in the NBA.
On Monday night, Okogie had fun and laughed last. The T-Wolves topped the Hawks, 125-113, and he didn’t miss a shot, scoring seven points on 2-for-2 shooting, 1-for-1 from three, 2-for-2 from the line. He added two rebounds — one on each end — and an assist in 19 minutes. Although it’s early, the Wolves are eighth in the Western Conference at 9-8 (6-2 on the road).
“We kind of have road-court advantage,” he said, with a laugh. “I don’t know what that is. We have to continue to be good on the road. I think it’s going to be an easy-fix to win at home. But as long as we keep winning on the road and we fix the home problem.”
He’s already fixed winning for the home country.
Josh did that over the summer at the FIBA World Cup in China, leading Nigeria to a berth in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Okogie had played for the U.S. in the 2017 U19 World Cup, but this time chose to play with his native country.
The second-youngest player on a roster that averaged 27 years of age, Josh led the team in scoring (12.6 ppg), assists (4.4), steals (2.4), and efficiency (17.0) while sharing the lead in blocked shots (1.2). In the final game, the decider for the Classification 17-32 Group M title, he scored 19 points, including making all nine tries from the line, with three steals, and two blocks — all team bests — as well as five rebounds and three assists (both second on the team) as Nigeria beat the host country, 86-73, to punch its ticket to Tokyo.
It’ll be Nigeria’s third straight Olympic berth, but Okogie’s first.
“As an athlete, Olympian is probably the best title that you can ever achieve,” he said. “There are only so many of them. To have the honor to say, ‘I’m an Olympian,’ that’s great. I’m very excited to see how Nigerian Basketball will be moving forward. It’s exciting to be a part of.”
So is his mastering the NBA learning curve.
“I’m learning every day,” he said. “I have to continue to be a sponge and soak up all the knowledge I can and just try and get better each and every day. Whether the results are good or whether the results are bad I just have to continue to work.”
Never thought this day would come 😂😂😂 https://t.co/AEmCoavB9M
— Josh Okogie (@CallMe_NonStop) November 11, 2019
— Shekinah Young (@Mrs___Young21) November 17, 2019
— B/R Kicks (@brkicks) November 26, 2019
GEORGIA TECH ALUMNI UPDATE
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
NBA Experience: 9 seasons
Years at Georgia Tech: 2009-10
Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.
|6-9, 265 lbs|
Standing: 10th / 21.5 GB
Last 10: 5-5
Team: Sioux Falls Skyforce
NBA Experience: 13 seasons
Years at Georgia Tech: 2002-05
Hometown: Fort Washington, Md.
Status: Active/G League
|6-3, 197 lbs|
Standing: 6th / 8 GB
Last 10: 7-3
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
NBA Experience: 1 season
Years at Georgia Tech: 2016-18
Hometown: Snellville, Ga.
|6-4, 213 lbs|
Standing: 14th / 30.5 GB
Last 10: 3-7
Team: free agent
NBA Experience: 12 seasons
Years at Georgia Tech: 2006-07
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.
|6-5, 212 lbs|
|Released by Brooklyn Nets|
Team: Chicago Bulls
NBA Experience: 8 seasons
Years at Georgia Tech: 2008-11
Hometown: Oak Park, Ill.
|6-8, 235 lbs|
Standing: 11th / 31 GB
Last 10: 3-7
Other former Georgia Tech players who play pro basketball (courtesy of Eurobasket.com):
Alade Aminu (6’10”-F/C-87, graduated ’09, plays pro in Poland) led Polski Cukier Torun to a victory against the closely-ranked Spojnia Stargard (3-6) 82-73 in the Polish EBL in Friday night’s game. He had a double-double by scoring 17 points and getting 10 rebounds. Aminu also added 3 assists, 2 blocks and 3 steals in 31 minutes. Polski Cukier Torun (1-6) is placed tenth in the EBL. It was his team’s first victory after six consecutive loses. But this is still an early stage of the season and everything may happen. Aminu has relatively good stats this year 14.4ppg, 6.1rpg, 1.4apg and 1.8spg in nine games he played so far.
Trae Golden (6’3”-PG-91, graduated ’14, plays in Turkey) led his Turkish team Bahcesehir Koleji Istanbul to a victory over the closely-ranked Oradea (4-1) 88-77 in the FIBA Europe Cup last Wednesday. He was MVP of the game. Golden scored 30 points (!!!) and added 4 assists. It was the game of the round between two top 4 ranked teams. Bahcesehir Koleji Istanbul (4-1) is placed first in the FIBA Europe Cup. It was his team’s third consecutive victory in a row. They will play only one more game in the FIBA Europe Cup Regular Season. And that game will be critical. Golden has individually a very good season with high stats. He averages 21.6ppg, 2.8rpg and 8.6apg.
Adam Smith (6’1”-PG-92, graduated ’16, currently in Greece) was the main contributor in PAOK’s victory against the closely-ranked Zaragoza (3-3) 93-78 in the Basketball Champions League on Wednesday night. He was MVP of the game. Smith scored 31 points (!!!) in 34 minutes. PAOK Thessaloniki (2-4) is placed eighth in the Basketball Champions League. It’s Smith’s first season with the team. He has very impressive stats this year 18.0ppg, 2.2rpg and 2.5apg in six games.
Marcus Georges-Hunt (6’5”-F-94, graduated ’16, plays pro in China) contributed to an easy victory against the closely-ranked Leopards (3-5) crushing them 116-88 in the Chinese CBA in Wednesday night’s game. He recorded 22 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Guangzhou Long-Lions (2-6) are placed 16th in the CBA. But the season just started, so everything may happen. This year Georges-Hunt has very high stats. He averages 24.0ppg, 6.8rpg, 3.0apg and 2.0spg. Georges-Hunt is a naturalized Virgin Islander.
James White (6’8”-F-93, graduated ’16, plays in Russia) was the major contributor in an Ural Ekaterinburg’s victory against the closely-ranked Ufimets Ufa (4-4) crushing them 97-64 in the Russian Superleague 1 (second division) last Thursday. White scored 14 points, had 6 rebounds and dished 3 assists in 28 minutes. Ural Ekaterinburg (3-6) is placed 11th in the Superleague 1. But the season is still in its first stage and everything can happen. White has relatively good stats this year 13.9ppg, 8.5rpg, 1.5apg and 1.3spg in eight games.
Ben Lammers (6’10”-C-95, graduated ’18, currently in Spain) contributed to a RETAbet BB’s surprising victory against the league leader Real Madrid 82-81 in the Spanish Liga Endesa on Sunday night. Lammers scored 10 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. This season Lammers averages 6.4ppg, 5.1rpg and 1.2bpg.
Thaddeus Young (6’8”-F-88, graduated ’07, plays pro in the NBA) could not help the Chicago Bulls (6-11) in their last game. Despite Young’s good performance the Chicago Bulls lost116-108on the road to the Miami Heat. He was the second best scorer with 12 points. Young also added 8 rebounds and dished 3 assists in 25 minutes. Young has relatively good stats this year 9.8ppg, 4.2rpg and 1.6apg in 16 games.
Josh Okogie (6’4”-G-98, graduated ’18, plays in the NBA) helped Minnesota Timberwolves win their game against the Utah Jazz 112-102 in the NBA last Monday. He recorded 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. Okogie has relatively good stats this season 8.6ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.9apg and 1.3spg. He is a naturalized Nigerian.
Zachery Peacock (6’8”-C-87, graduated ’10, currently in France) was not able to help one of league’s weakest teams JL Bourg Basket in their game against ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne Basket in the French Jeep ELITE ProA. He scored 9 points, had 5 rebounds and dished 3 assists in 23 minutes. His team was edged 85-82. Peacock has relatively good stats this year 13.2ppg, 4.3rpg and 2.3apg in nine games.
Iman Shumpert (6’5”-G-90, graduated ’11, plays pro in the NBA) helped Brooklyn Nets win their game against the Sacramento Kings 116-97 in the NBA in Friday night’s game. Shumpert scored 8 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. This season Shumpert averages 5.0ppg and 2.6rpg.
Other former Georgia Tech players, who play in pro basketball:
Derrick Favors (6’10”-F-91) signed for New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA
Gani Lawal (6’9”-F/C-88) played for Krka in Slovenian Liga Nova KBM
Tony Akins (5’11”-G-80) signed for SK Knights in South Korean KBL
Jeremis Smith (6’8”-F-86) played for Bigua in Uruguayan LUB
Glen Rice Jr. (6’6”-G/F-91) signed for New Zealand Breakers in Australian NBL
Robert Sampson (6’8”-F-92) signed for Grand Rapids Drive in the NBA G League
Jarrett Jack (6’3”-PG-83) played for Sioux Falls Skyforce in the NBA G League
Joshua Heath (6’2”-PG-94) signed for Stella Artois Leuven Bears in Belgian Euromillions League
Tadric Jackson (6’2”-G-94) signed for Sentjur in Slovenian Liga Nova KBM
Abdoulaye Gueye (6’9”-F-94) signed for Final Spor in Turkish TBL
Daniel Miller (6’11”-C-91) plays for Sendai 89ers in Japanese B2 League
Avi Schafer (6’8”-C-98) signed for Shiga L-Stars in Japanese B1 League
Kammeon Holsey (6’8”-F-90) signed for NH Ostrava in Czech Republic NBL
Anthony McHenry (6’8”-SF-83) plays for Shinshu BW in Japanese B2 League
Evan Jester (6’7”-F-99) signed for Atlanta Aliens in the ABA
Charles Mitchell (6’8”-F/C-93) signed for Bank of Taiwan in Taiwanese SBL
Brandon Alston (6’5”-G-95) plays for Team Charlotte in the Eurobasket S.League
Jason Collier (7’0”-F/C-77) signed for BIBT Great Whites in Bahamas NPBA
Dion Glover (6’5”-G-78) plays for Bivouac in the Big3
Will Bynum (6’0”-PG-83) plays for Bivouac in the Big3
Anthony Morrow (6’5”-G-85) plays for Bivouac in the Big3
Notice: The list above includes only some of alumni playing currently in pro basketball. Check complete list of Georgia Tech basketball alumni.