BROOKLYN – Jahlil Okafor received a late text from Kenny Atkinson on Sunday night. While he wasn’t complete sure what it was about, he had a feeling it was good news. His gut instinct was spot on.
Prior to the Nets’ New Year’s Day clash against the Magic, Atkinson revealed that he intends to play the center against the Timberwolves on Jan. 3. Okafor’s culmination of patience and hard work finally paid off weeks after his arrival by trade on Dec. 7
“I was happy,” Okafor said when asked about his reaction to the news. “When he texted me last night, I had a feeling what it would be about as I’ve been working extremely hard.”
He added, “Now that I’m playing on Wednesday, I’m very excited.”
Okafor has received 10 DNP-CDs since his arrival, but Atkinson has maintained that he was working hard to integrate the No. 3 pick of the 2015 draft into his gameplan. He insisted that he wanted to put Okafor in a position where he was set up to succeed. Monday’s news signals that the 22-year-old is ready to do just that.
“He’s been doing a phenomenal job of getting ready physically with our assistant coaches,” Atkinson said. “Collectively, we feel like he’s ready to get some minutes.”
Okafor admits he’s had some adjusting to fit into Brooklyn’s system. The center said there were similarities to his previous team, the Sixers, on defense, but offensively, there were significant differences. He also mentioned that observers shouldn’t expect him to start launching threes, despite the fact that most of the team’s bigs have had attempts from behind the arc this season.
“It’s only been two weeks so I don’t want to sit there and say I’ve developed an amazing three-point shot,” he said. “That’s something we’ve been working on but in the end of the day, I know what I do. I know what I’m able to help this team and that’s not going to be me shooting threes.”
Atkinson explained that he expects to bring along Okafor slowly. Similar to his teammates, the center will have to prove that he deserves a big role in the rotation.
“Like everyone [else], you got to earn it so let’s see it in small doses and hopefully build him up to bigger minutes,” the head coach stated.