Jahlil Okafor has been through it all in just a handful of years.
In 2014, Okafor was the pride of Chicago as the No. 1 high school player in the entire country before choosing Duke as his collegiate destination. At Duke, Okafor dominated the competition to help the Blue Devils claim a national championship and cement his status as a top-tier draft pick.
After being selected No. 3 overall by the Sixers, Okafor enjoyed personal success as a rookie before injuries, off-court issues and flaws in his game eventually pushed him out of the team’s future plans. He was traded to the Brooklyn Nets this past season before signing with the New Orleans Pelicans as a free agent this summer.
“I am 22. As a 22-year-old I’m going into my fourth NBA season, which is crazy to even think about,” Okafor said on C.J. McCollum’s Pull Up Podcast. “A few weeks ago, I was speaking at the rookie transition program where all the incoming rookies come in and get as much knowledge as they can. It’s just crazy where I am now.”
One player that also had a bit of a wild introduction to NBA life is Markelle Fultz. The Sixers’ No. 1 overall pick from 2017 spent most of his rookie year parked on the sideline with a mysterious shoulder injury sitting next to Okafor, who was out of Brett Brown’s rotation.
During his appearance on the podcast, the center explained what advice he would share with Fultz about getting back on track in his sophomore season.
“The first thing is just realizing that you hear so much stuff on social media and the news articles it makes you think that something’s wrong with you or that life is bad,” Okafor said. “So my first thing would tell him just take a second, look at what you have around you and realize that life isn’t bad at all. You’re blessed and you’re playing the game of basketball that you love.
“After that, it’s just knowing who he is and not forgetting who he is and that he wasn’t a No. 1 pick on accident. Those are just two reminders that I would tell Markelle.”
Okafor doesn’t need any more tips about trying to regain his standing in the league. The big man already reached rock bottom (remember the #FreeJah movement?).
Now with the Pelicans, Okafor feels he can get back to the player who was deemed worthy of the No. 3 overall pick in 2015. Why? Because New Orleans is intent on doing something Okafor hasn’t been used to so far in his career.
“It’s a fresh start for me. A new city, a new organization, a completely new conference,” he said. “With the Pelicans in particular, I’m going to a team that has aspirations of winning a championship. The whole organization, the whole atmosphere is all about winning and that’s not something I’ve been accustomed to since I’ve been in the NBA. It’s kind of been the opposite. I’m really excited about having a chance to be on a playoff team and all those great things. It’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
Anyway, to hear Okafor talk about the transformation of his body (he’s no longer vegan), getting the chance to play with fellow Chicago native Anthony Davis, mental health awareness and much more, check out the full podcast.