Thad Interviews Okulaja

1999 All-ACC performer and cosmopolitan basketball player extraordinaire Ademola Okulaja was in an ebullient mood Sunday afternoon after scoring 15 points to help San Antonio's summer team to a well-earned victory over Desmond Mason and the Seattle summer squad. Okulaja took time to provide this update on his transatlantic professional basketball career.

TW: How was Spain?

AO: Oh, Spain was great. I played a whole lot, the coach and me vibed very well, the whole team, the whole organization was great there. I got a lot of awards, I did well—Rookie of the Year, first team all-Spain, third best scorer, top ten rebounder, top five in steals. So personally, confidence-wise, it was a great thing. I loved Philly, but the IR list wasn't the greatest feeling. But we parted in a very good way and they also invited me to camp. So this summer I had to decide again to go with Philly in the summer league, or to San Antonio, and I decided to go to San Antonio.

TW: Have the Spurs indicated to you that they are thinking about inviting you to [preseason] camp?

AO: Oh, no, I think it's too early. I'm going to go on to Utah with them [another summer league] and try to keep playing well, and then we'll see.

TW: Did you think during the Finals about, if you had stayed in Philly, they were so beaten up that if you had been there you would have been playing?

AO: Oh (laughs), people were calling me from all over, my girlfriend was calling me, my brother, a lot of people, who were just like, "Ok, if you had been there you would have played," and I said, "yep." But it was a 50-50 chance, I had to make a decision in 48 hours [to stay or go to Europe.] I believe I made the right decision. Looking back of course, it would have been a great experience going all the way to the NBA finals, playing LA, playing the Bucks and all these guys. But at the end of it, I'm happy, and we'll see from here.

TW: How did you like the style of play in Spain compared to Germany?

AO: Oh, it was much better. I think Spain is the best league in Europe. There's the NBA and right behind it is Spain. Up-tempo game, athletic guys, run-and-gun, it's physical, it's everything, it's a lot of fun. I had much more fun than in Germany.

TW: Has your elevation increased any in the last couple of years, you really soared in for that dunk....

AO: Yeah, just a little bit. I've been working on it, working on my weight. In college and the last few years I was working on my size, to appear bigger, but now, I have the same strength or even stronger, but I have a leaner body, and I think that's what's giving me more elevation.

TW: You also seem a little quicker and more confident with the pull-up jumper, too...

AO: Yup.

TW: In terms of improving your game, what's the biggest priority?

AO: I was very unhappy the whole week about my free throws–they were horrible. I never shot this bad all my life. I'm an 80% free-throw shooter, but one time [this week] I was 2-7 or 3-7, and I was very disappointed. In practice I was shooting 30 for 30, 29 for 30, I was making all my shots. [Spurs summer league teammate] Ira Newbie and I talked, and he said "what's wrong," and I said "I don't know." Every time I shot it felt good....So I've got to keep working on my free throws, the open shots, knocking them down. There's so many things, working on my quickness, there's a lot of things to improve.

TW: Are you under contract in Spain for next year–are you free or would they have to let you go?

AO: I have a contract with Barcelona [the 2001 Spanish league champions], but we'll see what's going to happen. I signed with them, but they said nowadays, you never know.

TW: Have been to see the soccer team in Barcelona, Rivaldo and all that?

AO: I will, if I go back. The basketball and the soccer stadiums are no more than 50 yards or 70 yards apart, so we're definitely going to get some tickets.

TW: Did you get to see Coach Guthridge when he was up here?

AO: Yes, yes–that was the second game . . . Cota played in that game, and that was exactly the game [Guthridge] was there. It was fun seeing Ed Cota play, he also looked very solid, and I was happy to see all those guys there.

TW: Do you have any thoughts about playing against Forte and his game?

AO: Oh, yeah, he's a very talented guy. It was the first time I'd seen him in action, he's very talented, he's got a real nice squad around him and if they keep working hard he and the rest of the team will be successful.

TW: If you're in another situation this fall where you're 11, 12, [on the roster] or IR, are you going to make the same decision this time?

AO: Um...I wouldn't choose right now or make a decision, I'll decide when it comes to that path.

Okulaja also offered the parting words "say hello to everybody at Carolina for me." Okulaja then went to say hello to his coach last season in Girona, Spain, Trifon Poch, who was scouting the summer league, hoping to find a suitable replacement for Okulaja. Earlier in the week, a San Antonio personnel official said that the team was happy with Okulaja's play and impressed by his effort and attitude, but that no decisions about preseason camp invitations had been made.

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