May 29, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Josh Okogie is not too big on the idea of taking standard vacations, but he’ll take a break now and then. He may soon go on a journey to rival any leisure trip.
After just a little down time following spring semester and an inaugural college season in which he became the third highest-scoring freshman in Georgia Tech men’s basketball history, Okogie went right back to work — at school and hoops.
On campus again after about 10 mellow days at home in Snellville, where he graduated from Shiloh High School, the 6-foot-4 rising sophomore hit the books in pursuit of a business administration degree. He went back to basketball as well.
There’s at least one more trip planned before fall semester, and possibly a whopper on top of that.
He’ll leave June 18 for Colorado Springs, Colo., where USA Basketball has invited him to try out for the Under-19 national team. Should he make the squad, Okogie will play for the U.S. in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Cairo, Egypt, July 1-9.
“I was stunned for the most part [by the invitation]; just didn’t know how to react, because it’s been a dream of mine just to visit other countries, to play internationally,” said Okogie, who averaged 16.1 points and 5.4 rebounds to earn All-ACC Freshman team honors.
“I got a taste of that a couple years ago when I played with Pan Africa in the Nike Global Challenge, but doing this on a whole other level is just a blessing.”
Playing against domestic and international competition in the Challenge in Chicago was one thing.
Should Okogie land a spot on the U.S. squad, that would be quite another.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari will helm the American squad, which will open the World Cup in pool play with Angola, Iran and Italy.
Tech head coach Josh Pastner, who worked under Calipari at Memphis before taking over the program for seven years after Calipari left to coach the Wildcats, has put in a good word for his dynamic shooting guard.
“I talked to coach Calipari this spring, told him how good [Okogie] is and he needs to make the team,” Pastner recently told Andy Demetra, the radio voice of the Jackets, in a podcast.
Former Tech players Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter tried out for the U-19 team in 2013, in Colorado Springs, although neither made the squad ahead of the FIBA World Cup, which is staged every four years.
USA Basketball has not yet released the names of invitees, and Okogie doesn’t know who he’ll compete with.
But he’s going hard to get ready for that and his sophomore season — which will kick off with the Yellow Jackets playing UCLA in Shanghai, China, in November as part of the Pac-12 China Game in conjunction with the Federation of University Sports of China.
“On my week and a half off, I went home and worked out a couple times, got off my feet, just relaxed,” Okogie reported. “It was hard to stay away from basketball because that’s what I do, but I know … I know I need that break.
“I’ve been working on finishing around the hoop, using my off hand, reading the offense … but with the type of offense we run, I’ve done a couple drills to help me not only score but see if `this’ happens, what should I do next?”
Imagine the reaction to traveling to Egypt and China in a span of about five months. How many college students populate their passports with such stamps?
“It is crazy,” Okogie marveled. “It crossed my mind a couple times, just knowing that by the end of this year I would have been to two other countries, not only two different countries, but two different geographically, two different types of things.”
Pastner said that Okogie has already made a sacrifice with the goal of playing for the U.S. He’s given up the opportunity to play for the Nigerian Olympic team, which would preclude his participation for the U.S. His parents, Pius and Anthonia, are natives of Nigeria, and Josh was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and officials from that country invited him aboard.
Okogie is looking forward to domestic matters, including his second season at Tech.
He’s worked up scouting reports on incoming freshmen Jose Alvarado, a point guard from New York City, Curtis Haywood II, a guard from Oklahoma City, Okla., Moses Wright, a 6-9 forward from Raleigh, and Evan Cole, a 6-10 forward from South Forsyth High in Cumming, Ga.
“I played against Jose when I was in high school, and I know what he’s capable of. I’m extremely confident in him, and I know he’s confident in himself,” Okogie said. “I’ve never really seen Curt play, but just by the type of guy that he is, I know that he’s going to work and do whatever it takes.
“I played with Evan a couple times and he’s good friends with one of my friends, and I know if he’s friends with that guy he must be a really good guy. His skill level, he’s going to be able to help us early. I know Moses. He’s a really nice guy, focused, and loves the game. He loves to play. He’s got a lot of attributes that are going to help him in his first year.
Okogie flashed plenty of attributes in his first season at Tech, when he set a record for freshmen by scoring 38 points in an early game against Tulane.
His 596 total points for the season were the third most by a Tech freshman, and his 16.1 average ranked fifth-highest among first-timers.
He hit 45.3 percent of his shots, including 38.4 percent of his 3-pointers, and was good on 74.7 percent of his free throws.
As the Jackets rolled all the way to the NIT championship game, he led the way by averaging 19.8 points and 7.4 rebounds.
The only time he slowed down — remember, he scored in double figures in all but one ACC game, and in that one he scored the game-winner at the buzzer against Notre Dame — was upon spring semester’s end. He’s not one to schedule vacations; he carves out moments of respite.
“I like to keep it spontaneous. I like to get away sometimes, whether it’s to the community pool, or Whitewater,” he said. “I like to go with my friends, go back home and go out with my high school teammates, guys I was around growing up.
“It’s not something I plan. If I’m free on a weekend and they’re free, we’ll do something.”
Okogie has two big trips scheduled, to Colorado Springs and Shanghai. He’d sure like to go on a third, to Cairo.
“Egypt is way different than China. The thought of going to China is just crazy. I think it’s going to be fun, tiring as well, but fun,” he said. “Who doesn’t know coach Calipari? I’ve seen a couple documentaries.
“I like his core values: refuse to lose, and that’s always a value I’ve had myself. No matter the score, always play like you’re down 10.”