BROOKLYN – Jahlil Okafor entered the Nets training facility in Industry City on Sunday and was immediately surprised at what he saw as he walked on the basketball court.
Kenny Atkinson was there waiting for him and Nik Stauskas, ready to teach the new arrivals how his system operates with the Nets.
“Coach Kenny, he was actually hands on, he was the one instructing me through the entire workout. That was different for me” Okafor said in his introduction to the media. “Usually it’s the assistant coaches who handle that.”
He added, “To see the head coach out there, working with me, helping me shoot, running with me, guarding me a few times – it was different. I enjoyed it.”
It was a change of scenery that the 21-year-old center desperately needed after almost three years of inconsistent playing time that gradually became riding the bench with the Sixers.
Okafor insists he never took his lack of playing time in Philadelphia personally, pointing to the business nature of the NBA. He even credited the team’s coaching staff for helping improve his game despite being out of the rotation. But he acknowledged that the construction of the team made it a poor fit for him.
“The obvious thing was just how many people we had at my position…. we kind of had three starting centers on the same team. It just never was the right fit,” he said.
Now in Brooklyn, Okafor believes he’ll be able to show the improvements he’s made since being drafted and learn from the Nets’ coaching staff. He’s motivated to prove that he can fit into Atkinson’s high-paced style of play.
“They play free,” Okafor said. “A bunch of young guys playing free, playing together and that’s something I’m excited to be a part of.”
While Okafor is primarily known for his low-post scoring, he’s hoping he’ll be able to add new wrinkles to his game in Brooklyn. Atkinson famously encouraged Brook Lopez to take threes and Okafor wants to expand his range as well.
“That’s one of things I’ve heard about Brooklyn – how good they are at developing players,” he said.
Okafor also believes he’ll be able to help space the floor for the Nets, a team that has relies on the three in its offense. He was a good passer in college and he hopes to show more of that with his new team. He’s hoping to make a quick adjustment and hopes his relationships with D’Angelo Russell, who he played against in high school, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a former U.S. basketball teammate, helps.
“He [Russell] was actually the first person to call me when I got traded,” Okafor revealed. “We’re very excited to go on the court together and you never would have thought the No. 2 and No. 3 picks [of the 2015 NBA Draft] would be playing on the same team after just a few years.
“Everything happens for a reason. I’m really excited.”
Okafor hopes that he and Russell will be able to form an explosive offensive combo in Brooklyn, but he acknowledges a few things have to happen first: his acclimation to his new team and Russell’s recovery. Still, Okafor is happy to have a new home and just wants to get on the court to show what he can do. When asked if he expects to play against the Wizards on Tuesday, he gave an answer that sums his past few years.
“I’ve been sitting down longer than I want. I definitely hope to play… But I’m definitely ready. I’m tired of sitting,” he said enthusiastically.