Improved Okafor Seeking First Playoff Berth
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

January 18, 2010

Even after some of his best performances over the past two seasons with the New Orleans Hornets, its relatively rare to read postgame comments from Emeka Okafor in the newspaper or on the Internet the next day. Now, dont be mistaken its not that Okafor has been trying to avoid the media. Its just that, based on Okafors extensive postgame exercise routine, which helps him prevent injury, on-deadline reporters often dont have time to wait for the 6-foot-10 center to arrive at his locker stall.

Thats somewhat unfortunate, because Okafor is one of the NBAs most intelligent and thoughtful players. During his All-American college career at the University of Connecticut, Okafors 3.95 grade-point average was often cited by the NCAA as an example of how its possible for elite athletes to also excel in the classroom. On the court at UConn, Okafor led the Huskies to the 2004 national title, earning the Most Outstanding Player award of the NCAA Tournament.

For a player who experienced so much team success in college, its been frustratingly elusive so far in the pros. Now in his seventh season, Okafor has yet to appear in the NBA playoffs, but that will change this spring if the Hornets continue to be one of the leagues most improved teams.

The 28-year-old was instrumental in New Orleans franchise-best 8-0 start to 2010-11, highlighted by a 26-point, 13-rebound performance in a victory over Miami. By virtually any measure, Okafor has also improved as the season has progressed. For example, from Dec. 19 through Jan. 1, he registered six double-doubles in points and rebounds among an eight-game stretch. Prior to that, he had compiled a total of six double-doubles in the seasons first 26 games.

Hes getting better and better, credited Hornets coach Monty Williams, who believes Okafors work ethic has factored into the players improvement after a disappointing 2009-10 for the 37-45 Hornets. You have to take him into account now. Hes scoring and rebounding the ball and thats been big for us.

While Okafors postgame ice baths and unique stretching regimen have made him a less visible media presence, the routine has helped him become an extremely durable player. Through early January, he hadnt missed a game since April 2007, a streak that was approaching 300 games.

Hes a guy that when I get to the (practice) gym in the morning, hes there, Williams said. Hes working on his body and working on his game. If you look at the centers in the West, why cant he be an All-Star someday? I think thats the approach he has to take.

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