C.J. McCollum

Jahlil Okafor shares advice for Markelle Fultz, talks fresh start in New Orleans

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Jahlil Okafor shares advice for Markelle Fultz, talks fresh start in New Orleans

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.”

Interesting.

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.

More on the Sixers

Latest blown lead leaves Sixers stewing in silence

Latest blown lead leaves Sixers stewing in silence

BOX SCORE

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Sixers’ locker room was silent. Players sat at their stalls without saying a word.

They had lost 15 games before Thursday night, but this one was another blown lead — a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, at that — that left them quiet inside the Moda Center following a 114-110 defeat (see observations).

“We’re frustrated not just in losing, but how we’re losing,” JJ Redick said. “But we’ll turn it around. We’ll turn it around.”

It’s a familiar story for the Sixers this season. They were 11 minutes away from sweeping the season series against the Damian Lillard-less Trail Blazers as the two-time All-Star missed the game with a hamstring injury. The home team then went on a 19-0 run. It was a span that included five turnovers by the Sixers, who average the most in the league and committed a total of eight in the fourth quarter. 

The Trail Blazers went up by as many as 10, scoring 42 (Shabazz Napier accounted for 15) in the deciding quarter. Instead of starting off the three-city road trip with a win, the Sixers are left searching for solutions for their next two games. 

“Stop turning the ball over,” Joel Embiid said. “Play better defense without fouling. We fouled too much. And maybe get some calls going our way too, I guess.”

The free throw disparity made just as much of an impact as the 20 points allowed off 14 turnovers. The Trail Blazers attempted 47 free throws compared to 14 by the Sixers. Only Ben Simmons went to the line in the fourth (2 for 2) for the Sixers; the Trail Blazers shot 19 for 24 in the quarter.  

“Basketball gods looking out for us,” said C.J. McCollum, who made all 14 attempts. “I think that was big. We got into the bonus early.”

Embiid thought fouls were big as well. He particularly was surprised center Jusuf Nurkic did not pick up his sixth in the fourth. Nurkic scored 10 of his 21 points in the final quarter, then took some shots at Embiid after the game (see story)

“We didn’t get any calls,” Embiid said, later adding, “Usually I don’t complain about anything, even if it doesn’t go my way. But everybody did a good job. The referees, they did a great job. They can’t see everything, so I understand everything, but we’ve just got to do a better job of holding a better lead and finishing the game.”

The Sixers’ next two games are on back to back nights in Denver and Phoenix, which means one will be without Embiid, who has yet to be cleared for consecutive games. Robert Covington’s status is to be determined after he left Thursday’s contest early with a finger injury. 

The Sixers are regrouping Friday for practice in Portland before flying out for their next stop. The focus, as it has been, will be on bouncing back and correcting these costly errors that have plagued them all season. 

“We’ve put ourselves in a position to win a lot of basketball games and we’ve had some games where we’ve held leads and we’ve had several games now where we’ve lost fourth-quarter leads,” Redick said. “And that’s frustrating.” 

Shocker! Sixers blow another huge lead

Shocker! Sixers blow another huge lead

BOX SCORE

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Sixers surrendered an 18-point lead and were outscored 19-0 in a fourth-quarter spurt as the Trail Blazers staged a 114-110 comeback Thursday night at the Moda Center. 

The Sixers came off a 34-point third quarter to only fall flat minutes after the break between periods. The Trail Blazers transformed the Sixers’ 88-74 lead with 11:11 to play into a 93-88 deficit halfway through the fourth. The Sixers committed five turnovers and shot 0 for 5 from the field during that stretch.

Joel Embiid hit a flurry of threes (see more below) to cut the deficit to 111-108 with 9.2 seconds to play. The Sixers were whistled for a line violation, however, after Dario Saric went over the line to defend the inbound pass. C.J. McCollum pushed the lead to four with a technical foul free throw. The Trail Blazers scored 42 points in the decisive quarter. 

• The Trail Blazers pulled off the win without All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. He missed his third straight game with a right hamstring strain. They had to make up for his 25.2 points, 6.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds and did that with a trio of 20-plus point performances. 

• McCollum scored a total of five points over 36 minutes in his first game against the Sixers this season. The shooting guard would not have a repeat performance. McCollum posted 14 points in the first quarter alone en route to 34 points, seven rebounds and four assists on the night.

• Jusuf Nurkic recorded a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double while fill-in point guard Shabazz Napier dropped 23 points, including a massive 15 in the fourth. 

• Embiid started off the game settling in beyond the arc. He went 3 for 5 from three in the first quarter and drained 5 of 11 on the night, including three in the final 2:06. Embiid fell just shy of a double-double with 29 points and nine boards in 35 minutes. 

• Dario Saric bounced back from his poor shooting performance against the Knicks with an efficient 25 points (10 for 12 from the field, 5 for 6 from three), nine rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes. One of his assists was to McConnell, keeping the #TrustTheFriendship mantra going.

• Robert Covington suffered a left middle finger injury and did not return to the game. He attempted just two field goals in 24 minutes (four points) and did not take his first three attempts until two minutes remaining in the first half (he made it). 

• Justin Anderson (shin splints) was cleared to play for the first time since Nov. 15. Brett Brown explained before the game it was unlikely Anderson would have a major role in this game given the fact he has been through only one practice and the coach is using a tight rotation. 

• Anderson, Richaun Holmes and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot did not play. At shootaround, Brown noted the physicality and size of Nurkic (7-foot, 280 pounds) wasn’t favorable to a matchup with Holmes. 

• The Sixers, who entered the game last in the NBA in turnovers, had better control over the ball through three (six turnovers). They gave up 12 points off eight turnovers in the fourth.

• The Trail Blazers took 47 free throw attempts compared to only 14 by the Sixers.

Following the game, McCollum said, "Basketball gods looking out for us. I think that was big."

McCollum and Nurkic combined for 30 attempts.

• The Sixers dropped to 15-19 while the Trail Blazers improved to 18-16. The Sixers’ next game is Saturday in Denver against the Nuggets.