One on one with Jahlil Okafor

We continue the TDD Alumni Series with a sit-down chat with current Sixers rookie Jahlil Okafor. Last season's ACC Player of the Year, Okafor averaged 17 points and eight rebounds in leading Duke to a fifth national title. We spoke with him about that experience, what led him to Duke in the first place, and why he returns to Durham as much as he does.

So, how does it feel to finally be a NBA rookie?

Jahlil Okafor: Oh man it still feels real but also surreal.

What have been the biggest adjustments for you so far with being an NBA player?

I think the biggest thing with this being my first NBA Training Camp is just learning how to adjust to the other guys on the team, learning a new environment, and stuff like that. I’m doing what I love, it’s just coming to a new environment that I’m adjusting to.

What do you remember the most about your pre-draft process?

It was a very long process for sure and you had to be ready to work every single day to get ready. I worked out with a few teams. My agents were advising me on which teams to look at with that process.

What kind of things did you to do to prepare for the pre-draft process?

I didn’t do too much with team workouts. I was in Santa Barbara doing some stuff, working out three times a day to get ready for the upcoming season.

What did you think about all the media discussion about you as a player during the pre-draft process?

I was OK with it. I was looking at everything as just preparing for the job I wanted to do and that was just a part of everything.

When you were in the green room, what went through your mind when the Sixers officially drafted you?

I was nervous being in the room because you don’t know when you are going to go, I was still a little nervous then but then I got to talk with the Sixers and that was good.

What was the first communication with the Sixers after they drafted you?

I went to the Green Room and they told me that they were really surprised I was still there when it came time for them to pick.  They didn’t think I was going to be there so he was really happy and said, “We’re happy to have you be a part of the team”. From then on I knew I was going to be comfortable with it all.

What did they said about how they see you and Nerlens Noel fitting together?

They talked with me about they know what we are each capable of doing, what I can do and they think it’s going to work really well with both of us.  Nerlens is another great big man, so we’re going to make each other better every day.

Then with playing with the Sixers Summer League team, what did you learn about the NBA game during that time?

It’s a lot faster, that’s the big thing. It was good for me to play there though.  It was my first time really playing in a game since the National Championship game, it was good to start learning the things that I need to learn as a NBA player.

How are you settling in with Philadelphia the city?

They have the best sports fans whether it be from basketball to football to baseball to hockey, they are passionate about their sports and me and my teammates are excited about that. I’ve been asking to go to different games. There’s a lot of freedom in my free time which is kinda surprising, that’s the biggest difference I’ve noticed so far. I also spend a lot of time at the facility working out and I just got a dog, so I’m trying to train her, playing with her a lot, watching Netflix. I also traveled a lot during the offseason.  I went to Miami for a week to train with Justise and I went to Duke a lot during the summer to be with them. That’s the main things I did with my free time.

What led you to spend so much time at Duke during the off-season?

Those are my brothers there.  It’s kinda like my sanctuary there. It’s a great place to be because it’s like one great big family there. Coach K was giving me advice, telling me how to handle different things. He has my best interests at heart and I could tell he’s still there for me.

What were the most helpful things that Coach K and Coach Capel said to you during the pre-draft process?

That my job was to take care of my body. They told me that during the draft you have to make your game and your body a top priority. That was really helpful for me, really tremendous.

For you, did you go into Duke with the expectation that you wanted to go pro after one year?

No it wasn’t something we talked about during the recruiting process, but when I got there it was all about talking about how can we win a national championship together. We knew we could sort out the other stuff afterwords.

So when you talked with the coaches after the National Championship about your future, what did the conversations focus on?

Coach K told me what he thought I should do because I had done what I had wanted to do at Duke with winning the National Championship.  Then it was up to me from there and that he supported me in whatever I wanted to do. Then I decided I was ready to take it to the next level.

What did it mean to you to hear that counsel from him?

It was great knowing that he told me that if I left he would still support me 100%. He just wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable with whatever decision I made. He really helped me and it was a great comfort to me knowing he was behind me 100%.

I also noticed Coach Capel worked you out a lot, what do you remember about the recruiting process with he and Duke?

He’s a genuine guy and he just understood me. I knew right away with him that he was a great guy and he got really comfortable with me and Tyus and Justise. He’s a great guy and when I got to meet him in person, he was easy to talk to. I knew going into Duke that he was somebody I could talk to about anybody.

What for you were the most memorable conversations with the Duke staff during the entire process of them recruiting you?

They just kept telling me how different Duke was and how much I would enjoy being there and I wouldn’t understand it really until I got there. They were 100% correct with that and I loved it there with everything I experienced, it was the best experience I’ve had in my life.

How do you think for you either your perception or feelings about Duke changed from the start of the recruiting process to when you finally committed?

It wasn’t a big change, it made me a better player and a better person. Being on campus its not just one thing, it was great to be around my teammates and just hanging out with them every single day. That was especially true after winning the National Championship, being able to hang out with my teammates after that was the best day of my life. Being able to celebrate with everybody at Duke was great.

From the NCAA Tournament, what were the really memorable moments during the National Championship run?

Being in the locker room before every game was great, that’s the thing I think about first for sure. I remember when we went to the Final 4 and that was the first banner we were able to put up, that was special. I remember celebrating in the locker room after we won our Final 4 game and telling each other that we were going to be able to hang a banner up and we were looking forward to hanging another banner after that

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