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#TGW: Testing the Waters

March 22, 2018

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Josh Okogie has already crafted quite a story, and he may pen an even more remarkable tale if he’s drafted by an NBA team, yet for now he’s still a Yellow Jacket.

Georgia Tech’s sophomore swingman last week entered his name in the June 21 NBA draft, but he’s still in school — although on spring break this week — and working out with teammates. Okogie even said he’d love to play in a future NCAA Tournament with Tech . . . if he returns to school in the fall without turning professional.

The trick will be deciding whether to do that or not, and he still has a choice.

By entering his name, the 6-foot-4 guard/forward opens communication with NBA general managers, scouts and coaches and hopes to receive one of about 60 player invitations to the NBA Pre-Draft Combine in Chicago May 16-20.

Should he and his family like what they hear with regards to where/if he could be drafted, Okogie will go pro. If forthcoming projections are not sufficient, he can remain at Tech for his junior season.

He has not hired an agent. If he had, that would — by NCAA rule — preclude him from returning to Tech whether he is drafted or not.

“Me and my family just think it would be best to test the waters, and enter my name in the draft to get as much feedback and evaluation as I can,” Okogie said. “When I can get that information, just decide what I want to do from there.”

He’s done quite a bit already.

Relatively unheralded coming out of Shiloh High School in Snellville, Okogie was named to the ACC All-Freshman team after averaging 16.1 points and 5.4 rebounds, including 17.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in conference games.

As a sophomore, he earned third-team All-ACC honors after once again leading the Jackets in scoring at 18.2 points per game while grabbing 6.3 rebounds and improving his assist, steal, block and free throw shooting rates.

Noted for his athleticism, Okogie has demonstrated outsized strength for his size, a respectable stroke from beyond the 3-point line (38.2 percent over two seasons) and a knack for getting to the free throw line (82.1 percent as a sophomore).

“I think if he’s a first-round draft pick, and I told him, ‘If you’re a first-round draft pick, you should go. You shouldn’t come back,’” said Tech head coach Josh Pastner. “If you’re not a guaranteed first-round pick, that’s up to you.

“If you’re not a first-round draft pick, and this is just my personal opinion — not about Josh — you should come back.”

Okogie has not articulated a cut-off point. The business administration major said he’s looking for feedback good and bad, which could give him ideas what parts of his game need the most work to improve his draft stock.

“The higher the numbers the better, but no really number set on myself,” he said. “Obviously I’ve got to put myself in the best position. Like coach says, the goal is not to make it [to the NBA], the goal is to stay in the NBA. Whether that’s this year, next year, or the year after that it’s something I’m going to have to decide.”

Multiple college underclassmen are widely projected to be drafted in the first round, including freshmen Deandre Ayton (Arizona), Marvin Bagley III (Duke), Jaren Jackson (Michigan State), Mo Bamba (Texas), Michael Porter (Missouri), Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke), Trae Young (Oklahoma) and Collin Sexton (Alabama).

Porter suffered a back injury in his first game for the Tigers, and months after surgery returned to play in Missouri’s final two games. He did not play particularly well, and some speculate that he hurt his draft status in the process.

Okogie will think about the possibility of injury affecting pro potential. He missed the first eight games of his sophomore season with a dislocated finger in conjunction with a six-game NCAA suspension.

“You see guys even before their first game going down with an injury,” he said. “Injuries are something you can’t plan for, so that is something I take into consideration.”

A slew of outlets make NBA draft projections, and Okogie’s name can be found late first found in a few. More often, he’s seen as a second-round pick or not likely to be drafted.

There are just two rounds to the NBA draft with a sliding difference in pay scale.

Looking at last year’s final pick of the first round, the Lakers selected former Villanova guard Josh Hart No. 30 overall. He signed what amounted to a four-year, $8,475,000 contract with the first two seasons of salary guaranteed to the tune of $3,049,680.

He’s making $1,394,520 this season, although he’s out now with a broken hand. Hart played in 55 games, starting 20, and turned in several double-doubles before his injury. The Lakers hold options on his third and fourth seasons. If they don’t pick them up, Hart will be out of work, a free agent.

Former Duke guard Frank Jackson was drafted 31st overall, the first pick of the second round, by Charlotte. He was traded to New Orleans, where he signed a three-year, $3,812,377 contract with the first two seasons and a little more guaranteed to the tune of $2,699,857.

He’s making $815,615 — more than half a million less than Hart, who was drafted one spot ahead of him — although he won’t play this season after foot surgery in September.

There will be plenty to be considered in the next three months, and international prospects factor in this matrix as well. Slovenian swingman Luka Doncic, for example, is universally considered a top five pick, and some project him to go No. 1 overall.

Okogie has until May 30 to withdraw his name from the draft and retain NCAA eligibility.

“A lot will probably depend upon whether or not he gets invited to Chicago,” Pastner said. “If he gets invited to Chicago, they’re obviously more interested [in the NBA]. If he’s not invited to Chicago, then maybe that might be a sign there …

“It’s hard. Josh knows this. He’s very humbled. He’s in the mix. He’s on the radar in the NBA. That’s hard to do from where he started. That’s a great honor for him. If he’s a first-round draft pick, it’s great for our program [for recruiting purposes]. Does it hurt us for next year? Of course it does.”

Ironically, Okogie said that choosing Tech put him in position to consider a pro basketball career sooner than later.

Yet he wouldn’t mind returning to the Jackets.

“I’m going to be in the team workouts as much as I can,” he said. “Obviously, this has been a life-long dream for me. I looked at all my options and thought Georgia Tech was going to be the best place for me, but it kind of expedited things for me having two good years.

“Everything I’ve done, every decision I made was kind of planning towards this event. I would love another chance at it. You just never know.”

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