Get to Know: The Eight Players of Nigerian Descent Selected in NBA Draft 2020

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The NBA Draft 2020 held virtually on Wednesday, Nov. 18 from ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Connecticut, and reached fans in 215 countries and territories in 29 languages. The Minnesota Timberwolves made the first pick for the second time in franchise history, selecting Georgia’s Anthony Edwards. The Golden State Warriors picked second (Memphis’ James Wiseman) for the first time in the common draft era. The Charlotte Hornets picked LaMelo Ball from Australia’s NBL third overall.

On the Nigerian front, it was interesting to note that of the 2020 class, 8 draft picks were of Nigerian heritage. Get to know all of them below.

Desmond Bane| Boston Celtics

If you’d start out with an opening statement about what you’ll bring to your new team, please.

You know, I feel like I bring a mature approach. I bring a mature, consistent approach, both on and off the floor, and I think that’ll be beneficial early on.

I know you’ve been waiting for this moment all your life, and just going through your basketball career so far before the NBA, your game is unique. Who are some guys that you’ve patterned your game around that you’ve looked at and studied from to get where you are now?

I like a lot of guys. I like Joe Harris, Eric Gordon, guys who can shoot, strong bodies, can do multiple things. I kind of like to model my game after those type of guys.

With this team you’re going to be on now, what do you feel is best thing you’re going to bring to the team, outside of the maturity and some of the intangibles? What else could you bring to this team to make the next step for this organization?

I feel like it’s definitely shooting. Shooting and my willingness to defend. You know, Ja Morant obviously is a great player and is great at getting in the lane, and Jaren Jackson draws a lot of attention, so being able to spread the floor and being a willing defender I think will be huge for me early on in my career.

Is there any player that you’re excited to face? Obviously, I’m pretty sure you’re excited to face anybody, but is there a particular player that you’re excited to face?

I’m excited to play against everybody. You know, I mean, I’m excited to be in the league and just be an NBA player. I’m excited to go at guys on both ends of the floor.

Zeke Nnaji|Denver Nuggets

Can you talk about your style of play and what you’ll bring to the Nuggets.

First and foremost, I want to thank the Most High. Without Him, I wouldn’t be in this position. He’s given me everything, and He’s the only reason I’m here. All glory and honor go unto His name.

But I mean, I’m ready. I’m a worker. I’m someone who’s coachable, who’s disciplined, who brings energy. Yeah, and I’m just excited to be a part of this Nuggets organization.

I’ve been working a lot during these quarantine times, and I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvements. I’ve added 20 pounds of muscle. I’ve really improved my jump shot, shooting the three-pointer well. I feel great. My body feels explosive. I feel quick. I’m just excited to do whatever I can to help our team win.

How much contact did you have with the Nuggets prior to tonight, and if you did have any sort of extensive contact, what was your impression of the Nuggets when you met with them?

Yeah, I had a couple of interviews with them. I also worked out for them, and I feel like — I always felt like they were a great team, a team I would like to go to. I felt like our conversations went really well, and I felt like we built a pretty good relationship from those interviews and from the workout that I had for them, so yeah.

The moment you got selected, just take me through the feelings in your household with your mom and dad and going through that moment and achieving your dreams.

Yeah, it was an incredible moment. I’m so thankful first and foremost for the Most High, for all that He’s done for me putting me in this position. I’m extremely blessed, and I know there are so many people that want to be in this position, but for me to be here, me and my family, we’re incredibly thankful.

It feels great because I’ve been working to get to the NBA for so long, but I know this is just the beginning. I know

that now the button resets, and it doesn’t matter where you’re drafted, now it matters how much work you put in.

I’m a worker. I’m ready to work. I’m going to get better, and I’m just going to let my game do the talking.

Yeah, I’m excited to get to work, really.

How excited were you to see your teammate Josh Green go to Dallas two picks ahead of you?

Man, I was so pumped. He deserves it. He’s an incredible worker. He’s just a great teammate to have, and to see him go 18 to the Mavericks, I was so happy because I know how hard he’s worked for this. And I’ve been with him for a while, and he definitely deserved that.

I’m just curious, this whole process, obviously the college basketball season stopped in March, you guys as prospects have had a very, very long wait. How did you kind of stay — just sort of stay motivated and keep a process through all that and how difficult was that?

Yeah, I mean, I didn’t find it too difficult to keep myself motivated. I feel like people have been doubting me since my high school days. I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder. There are so many things that motivate me.

And this quarantine time I felt like I know it’s so unfortunate everything that’s happening, and I’ve had people and family members that have been impacted by this, as well. But I was trying to make the most of this opportunity. I know it’s a bad situation to be in, but it’s also a lot of time to get better.

That’s what I was doing this whole time, just getting better, putting time in the gym, improving my body, improving my shot. I feel like I made a lot of big improvements in this time off, and I feel like I’m not going to stop there. I’m going to keep working and keep trying to push myself to continue to get better.

What’s your first impression of playing with Nikola Jokic?

I’m excited. He’s a superstar. He’s like one of the best centers in the league. His vision and his passing is incredible. He’s super talented, high IQ. I’m excited to learn from him and to get to work with him, you know?

I was wondering just going back to when you came to Arizona a year ago, nobody thought you’d be a first-round pick. It sounds like you had a lot of belief in yourself. Did it really seem more realistic after looking back on it sometimes during last year that you could do this? And especially tonight it seemed like maybe you even went faster, quicker than people thought in this draft.

Yeah, I have confidence in myself because I know the Most High is with me, and He’s the one who’s provided me with everything. I have the utmost faith in Him, and that’s why I have confidence in my abilities.

Going back to last year even when I got to Arizona, I felt one of my goals was to get Freshman of the Year. I did, and I set my goals high, but I work really hard, so I’m able to set that work towards it.

I’m just ready to work hard for the Nuggets. I’m just so excited. Yeah, this is just the beginning of this new chapter in my life. I’m just ready.

At Arizona last year you played some of the 4 and 5, and I was wondering at the NBA level what position you think suits you best.

I mean, I think that — I mean, I’m really — I feel like I’m a really coachable person and a team player, and whatever the coach needs from me, whatever the team needs from me, I’ll step up and take on that role.

If they need me to play the 4, I’ll play the 4. If they need me to step up and play the 5, I’ll play the 5. I’m just willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Growing up or just now watching film on NBA guys, who are some players that you pattern your game around that you watched and studied film on?

Yeah, I watched a lot of like — the players around the league, I feel like there isn’t a single specific player that I tried to pattern my game after, but certain parts of their games I tried to implement into my own game. I don’t feel like there’s a specific player I tried to emulate their game word for word.

I know you’re excited just to get on the court, but is there a particular matchup you’re looking forward to?

No, I’m up for whatever challenge is thrown at me. I’m a competitor, and I’m going to give it my all no matter who I’m going against.

Onyeka Okongwu| Atlanta Hawks

You’re going to a team that of course has Trae Young, John Collins, and an experienced bunch of young guys. Number one, what can you bring to the table in Atlanta? And number two, what are your thoughts on your former high school teammate LaMelo Ball being drafted?

Well, today, yeah, I play a lot of defense, so I’m defensive-minded. I love playing defensive. I anticipate everything. I know what’s going to happen before it even happens, this natural ability I have. I texted LaMelo today, good luck wherever you go, you’re going to be a star. And he went to Charlotte, man, nothing but class. And cheers for him over here. So he’s like family to me. I’m happy for him.

What are your thoughts about Coach [Lloyd] Pierce, Trae Young, and everything that the Atlanta Hawks are building right now?

Coach Pierce is a great coach. I had my meeting with him, seemed like a smart guy, knew what he was doing. Trae Young is a great guard, All-Star point guard. Going to be a star for a long time.

I’m just ready to build up this young team and help this team win games.

What are your thoughts about playing alongside Clint Capela and John Collins? How do you think your skillset will work along with them?

You know, for me I feel like I play inside out. When Clint is in the game, me and him can be inside out. When John Collins is in the game, could be inside and me outside. Me and him can help each other out on both sides of the court, on defense. We’re all great athletes, so we’re able to prepare to be ready to play defense.

 Just wanted to ask you about your player comparisons, a lot of people are saying you’re similar to Miami’s Bam Adebayo. What do you make of those, and how do you see your game fitting in Atlanta?

I feel like the Bam comparisons are accurate. He and I were similar players coming out of college, and it took him three years to develop into the All-Star he is now.

So I feel like with time I could definitely be that type of player through time. I’m patient, ready to get better, and develop my skill set.

As an NBA player, what would you like to achieve?

There’s a couple of things. Obviously first and foremost, I want to win a championship. That should be everyone’s goal, to win a championship that everyone wants to win.

Myself, I just want to be able to get better, be able to be the best that I can be, continue to work hard, have a great work ethic.

Sixth pick, Atlanta Hawks, what are your expectations for the next season?

Obviously to win. Obviously, we want to be able to make the Playoffs. I want to be able to be impactful but to go into the East, go to the playoffs. I want to really help this team out.

How will you fit in with Trae Young’s style of play, and what do you look forward to the most with joining the Atlanta Hawks?

Trae Young, he’s a great point guard. He can shoot. He’s a great passer. He’s a very good passer. I like to move around a lot, so obviously Trae Young is a great passer, can hit me when I’m open, I’m catching them lobs.

I’m excited to play with him and looking forward to going to Atlanta and just playing. I haven’t been able to play a lot. I haven’t played in so long, that’s why I’m excited about it.

Are there any players that you look forward to playing against?

Obviously, my favorite player is LeBron James and Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. I feel like those are the top players in the league, and obviously, I want to go up against the Ball brothers. They were my teammates in high school, so having that friendly battle against them, I’m really looking forward to that.

Precious Achiuwa| Miami Heat 

Why don’t you start out with a few opening remarks about what you’ll bring to the Heat?

First I want to thank God. I want to thank God for putting me in this type of position where I’m playing for a great organization and able to represent not just me but where I’m from, my whole country behind me, my whole city.

And to play for an organization like the Heat is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to be able to get out there and compete with the rest of my teammates.

Precious, the Miami Heat play with a very strong culture, what they call the Miami Heat culture, gritty, strong basketball. How do you fit into the Heat system that requires this aggressiveness in their game?

I’m a really, really competitive kind of player. I’m aggressive, too. I like to play really aggressive. I’m gritty, too, like you said. That’s what I’m about, being out there doing whatever it takes to win ballgames, and just that aggressiveness, that grittiness, and just everything that it takes to win a basketball game.

Just wanted your thoughts on if you watched the NBA Finals, and from what you saw, what can you bring to Miami in the hopes of them getting better overall?

Yeah, of course. I watched the NBA Finals, and thankful they’re welcoming me to Miami. I think I can add a lot to the table, like add a lot of aggression and grittiness to the table and be that support for them inside.

What has Coach [Penny] Hardaway taught you to prepare you for this moment?

Just really being able to adjust. I actually just got off the phone with him. He was talking about the Miami culture as far as encouraging me to keep that attitude of being able to adjust to situations and always working hard.

I’m curious, did you have any indication before tonight that this was going to be where you ended up, or did you kind of find out in real-time almost like the rest of us?

I found out in real-time. My hope was to end up in a great organization, and thank God my prayers got answered and I’m part of a great organization.

It’s been eight years since a Memphis Tiger has been drafted. You and James going tonight, how does that feel to be a part of that legacy?

I mean, it’s just amazing being able to continue that legacy. Obviously, Memphis is a great city, I love that city, and just being able to have my name and be part of that city and that organization is a pleasure.

Can I follow up on what you were asked about Coach Hardaway, the system he put in? Do you feel there are some similarities to the way the NBA plays and how in terms of mental discipline — also talk about that, what Coach talked to you about.

Yeah, Coach Hardaway has always been big on defense and aggressiveness and just doing the little things to win the game. Compared to the Miami organization, it’s pretty much the same things expected of everyone.

And being able to be a part of Penny Hardaway’s program, I think it’s going to be a lot easier for me to be able to adjust to the next level.

Penny was so close to winning a championship. Did he talk to you about taking advantage of this opportunity and making the most of it?

Yeah, of course. He’s always encouraging me and just telling me just to keep working and believing.

What was your reaction when you got the call? Just kind of take us through your emotions when you found out that you were going to be taken at 20, and also, what has been the reaction of your former Memphis teammates?

My teammates have been calling me, blowing up my phone since my name got called, and that just goes to show you that I had guys on the team that we really cared about each other, and me being able to be a part of that program and be teammates with those guys is a blessing.

With your Heat workout, what stood out from that workout? What were your takeaways from that workout, and did you kind of left there thinking, if I’m there at 20, they’re probably going to take me?

Every workout I give it my all, try to do the best of my ability. After the workout, I felt like I put myself in a position to be considered by the Miami Heat.

Isaac Okoro| Cleveland Cavaliers

Isaac, congratulations. Just wanted to get your thoughts on how you’re going to fit in in Cleveland next to Sexton and Garland, and what do you make of people saying you’re the best defensive wing in this draft?

I feel like I could fit alongside Sexton and Garland by just running the floor, getting in quick buckets, and I feel like I am the best defensive player in this draft. Like I’m able to switch off one through four and still hold my ground.

Isaac, congratulations on your big night, man. When did you get the sense that the Cavs were truly interested in taking you at No. 5?

I feel like I had a great workout, a great interview with them. They also took me out to dinner. We just had a great conversation. So I feel like, throughout that day, I feel like I had a good sense that they were going to take me.

Isaac, I’m calling from Cleveland too. How do you feel you can help this defense right away? I mean, they’ve been last in the league for two years.

I feel like I could take that challenge of guarding the other team’s best player and hopefully trying to slow them down or shutting down the game and just giving our guards time to focus on offense and focus on running the floor.

Isaac, as you know, you are the first player of Nigerian origin to be selected in this draft. How does that make you feel especially considering what your mom said about remembering where you come from?

It feels great to be the first Nigerian in this draft to be drafted. It’s also just a blessing. As you said, my mom always tells me to keep that Nigerian pride. Even though I wasn’t born in Nigeria, I still got Nigerian blood. So it’s just having that on my shoulders.

What are your goals for next season? How excited are you to be part of a team with players like Andre Drummond and Kevin Love?

I feel like my goal for this year is to help the Cavaliers get back to the playoffs. Just do anything to help us win and get back to the playoffs.

And I feel like I could be great playing alongside Kevin Love and Andre Drummond, knowing that they’re veterans. Just going in there and talking to them, getting advice from them, I feel like that will help me out.

Hi, Isaac, congratulations. You obviously have an existing connection with Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton. How excited are you to be playing with somebody you already know?

That’s great, going in and we already have that chemistry and that connection. So I’m just going in and asking him questions about the league and how I can fill my role on the team. Will be a great start for me.

 The Cavs, one of the positions that they’ve been really lacking is at the wing, which is where you fill in really well. Offensively, what about your game do you think that you can bring on that end of the floor to really help just kind of fill that gap for them?

I feel like just my attacking-the-rim ability, being able to force mismatches and post smaller guards up and take bigger guards off the dribble, and also just my play-making abilities, being able to find open the teammates and being able to get them open shots.

How different is it going to be getting ready for the start of this season in just over a month from today? I mean, especially for rookies this year. This is a different year, you know.

Yeah, it’s going to be different, but you know, I’m ready for it. We’ve had a long time to go into workout mode and get better at our game. So just coming in right now, I feel like I’m ready for it.

Congratulations, Isaac. What over the course of the last almost a year now, going on a year that you’ve actually played a game, did you specifically work on to get yourself ready for this NBA Draft? What specifically did you work on to get yourself ready for the draft?

I would say I didn’t just work on one thing. I worked on all aspects of my game. Because I know coming into the NBA, you have to have a polished game. So I worked on my shooting, strengthening my strengths, just working on my passing, working on slide defense, and just playing a pick-up game.

Thanks, War Eagle.

War Eagle.

Udoka Azubuike| Utah Jazz

 

The Utah Jazz selected Udoka Azubuike, a 7-foot center from Kansas, with the 27th pick of the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday night. Now Azubuike, who averaged 2.6 blocks per game last season for the Jayhawks, will have a chance to learn from Gobert and potentially earn minutes behind him.

Azubuike played four years at Kansas, averaging 13.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game during his senior season. During his career, Azubuike became college basketball’s all-time field goal percentage leader.

Daniel Oturu| Los Angeles Clippers

Oturu was the 33rd overall pick at the 2020 NBA drafts. He was acquired by LA Clippers via a trade with New York Knicks.

He was born to Nigerian parents in Brooklyn, New York, and represented Nigeria on the World Select team as a High School senior.

Oturu played for Minnesota Gophers as a college student where the 21-year old center player averaged 20.1 points per game and converted 36.5% of his 53 three-point attempts. He measures 6 ft 10 inches in height and weighs 240 lb. He was named on the Second Team All-Big Ten on January 13, 2020, as well as on the All-Defensive team.

Jordan Nwora| Milwaukee Bucks

Nwora is a 22-year old small forward who was born in Buffalo, New York. He represented the Nigerian national basketball team, D’Tigers at the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifier- a team which his father coaches. Nwora holds the record as the highest scoring player for Nigeria in a single game with 31 points.

He will be joining Giannis Antetokoumpo, another player of Nigerian descent at Milwaukee Bucks. He was the 45th overall pick of the 2020 overall NBA draft.

He averaged 13.9 points per game as a college player with the Louisville Cardinals. Nwora scored a career-high 37 points and nine rebounds on January 29, 2020. He was named to the First-Team All-ACC and finished second in the player of the year voting for the same season.

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