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Emeka Okafor Interview
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

December 9, 2009

Its only been six weeks since the regular season tipped off on Oct. 29, but the Hornets have already seen several different starting lineups, various key injuries, a reconfigured playing rotation and a head coaching change. Among the few constants so far for New Orleans: the contributions of 6-foot-10 center Emeka Okafor.

Acquired in a July trade from the Bobcats, Okafor is one of only two Hornets players to start every game (David West is the other). One of just three NBA players to average double-figure scoring and rebounding in all five seasons since his pro debut in 2004-05, the University of Connecticut product was at 10.8 points and 10.2 boards through Dec. 7. Okafor also has provided a much-needed interior defensive presence, accounting for nearly half of the teams blocked shots (36 of 77 rejectons).

Hes done a very solid job for us, Hornets coach Jeff Bower said. He continues to work to expand the impact that he has on the game. I think we benefit from the scoring that he can provide in the paint, as well as his shot-blocking.

Bower is optimistic that Okafor can be even more productive after he has more time to adjust to his new team and his teammates become more familiar with the 26-year-olds strengths. Okafor missed the entire preseason due to a toe injury.

Were very pleased with where Emekas at and really look forward to him building on those things, because I think there is a lot more there, Bower said. For big men to be effective, the biggest thing to realize is that their fate is determined by the guard play. The instincts and ability of the guard to read the defense and deliver the ball to them in areas where theyre open, that determines everything. But the only way to get there is playing together and playing a lot of games.

Hornets.com sat down with Okafor to learn more from the six-year veteran about his perspective on the early stages of his debut with the Hornets:

Hornets.com: After missing the preseason, its been about six weeks since your first game in a Hornets uniform. Through the early part of the regular season, it appears as though youre performing very similarly to how you played in Charlotte, averaging a double-double. Whats your assessment of your season so far, individually?
Okafor: I would say so far, so good. From a team standpoint, there have been a lot of unexpected changes. We havent been able to be consistent in terms of having the same group (together on the court). There was a coaching change, and players have been out because of injuries here and there. So we havent had a chance to form a team. And then, with me missing preseason, there have been little disruptions. Thats the only aspect thats been a bit of an adjustment.

But as far as rebounding and blocking shots, I just do those things naturally. The past couple games, Im starting to find myself a little bit more offensively. And I think the guys are starting to get a better feel for me and my game. I think now that Chris (Paul) is back I will get a better idea of what hes looking for, and hell have a better idea of what I can do.

Hornets.com: One of things Jeff Bower mentioned about the early part of your season is that he believes you will be even more of a factor on offense when you develop additional chemistry with the teams backcourt players. What areas are you seeking the most improvement as you become more acclimated to your new team?
Okafor: Everything. For the most part, I had to use this past month almost like it was a preseason for me, as far as getting in game shape, getting into a rhythm, figuring out what was going on, but at the same time having to deal with all of the inconsistencies of a coaching change, player injuries or whatever it was.

As far as individually, I still want to increase my blocked shots, my rebounding, my scoring all of that.

Jeff (Bower) said it best. As far as the big guys, we dont bring the ball up the court. We could be open, but it can be all for naught, if the guards dont get the ball to us. So were highly dependent on them realizing that were open, and them making the correct pass. Thats a battle in itself, even before you even get the ball. Then you have to score to make sure you keep getting touches. That makes the process a little bit slower for big men.

Hornets.com: Are you scoring in the same ways and in the same areas of the court as you did in Charlotte, or has that been different in this system?
Okafor: Not necessarily. Its been about the same thing. Ive been scoring on my jumpers, my duck-ins, my offensive rebounds, or by running the floor. But I think the opportunity with this team is going to be greater, because once people catch on, I will get more (scoring chances). I can do a lot with a little and make it go a long way. I dont need much.

Hornets.com: Do you feel like you and Chris Paul were able to start developing some chemistry prior to him being sidelined by his ankle injury?
Okafor: A little bit. But things were still new. And the other thing was that at the beginning of the regular season, we hardly had any practices. The schedule was game, game, game, with no time for practice. So game time was almost all we had to learn each other. We were trying to figure it out on the fly. I think the fact that hes been injured, but yet hes been able to see what I do, that helps. Just like when I was injured, but he was on the court, I was able to see what he does. Weve had some on-the-court time, but already from the first practice (that Paul participated in his return from an ankle injury on Dec. 3), Ive seen a difference.

Hornets.com: What has the experience been like for you off the court in New Orleans?
Okafor: Its been very positive. People have been saying Glad to have you. Everyone has been very supportive.

Ive never been in a city where the people are just so proud of their city. Thats a pretty cool thing. And I was telling someone the other day that when I saw the fleur de lis symbol everywhere in New Orleans, I had always thought before I came here that it was just the (New Orleans) Saints symbol. So when I was seeing the fleur de lis everywhere I went around here, I was like, Man, these people are unbelievable Saints fans! These people are nuts about football. [laughs] But then someone told me, No, no the fleur de lis is the sign of the city of New Orleans.





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