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Two Days After Being Tabbed No. 5 Overall, Okoro Comes to Cleveland
The Draft class of 2020 didn’t get the much of fun and fanfare that those before them have – no Tournament tales, no taking the stage in Brooklyn, no summer off to bask in the happiness of achieving a lifelong dream.
Here’s what the 2020 Draft class will get: Right to work.
Training Camp tips off in less than two weeks and youngsters like Isaac Okoro will get thrown immediately into the fire. His victory lap for being named the Draft’s No. 5 overall pick will be learning the streets around northeast Ohio – specifically the ones that lead to Cleveland Clinic Courts.
On Friday, the collective media got their first opportunity to meet Okoro – who virtually modeled his No. 35 jersey, the one he’ll be donning on a gameday in just over a month.
Okoro didn’t meet the customary packed gym full of Cavalier staff and employees on Friday, but his parents – who he surprised with a Range Rover on Draft night – made the trip with their newly-drafted son.
”My parents played a huge role (in my growth),” said the soft-spoken Okoro. “My parents were always on me, giving me my morals and values, telling me the right and wrong things to do in life – and I feel like that’s why I’m the person I am today.”
Aside from bringing, by all accounts, a low-maintenance, team-first attitude to the squad, he also comes into the Association as arguably the Draft’s best overall defender. In his single season at Auburn, he earned All-SEC Second Team honors along with being named to the Conference’s All-Freshman and All-Defensive Teams.
Growing up a LeBron James fan, Okoro – who wore James’ 23 at Auburn – talked about his excitement playing for a team he grew up watching. At least one of those players from those squads, Kevin Love, reached out to welcome him to Cleveland. He also heard from Darius Garland, Andre Drummond and his friend, teammate and fellow Atlantan, Collin Sexton.
”(Our relationship) started at a very young age,” said Okoro. “My first time playing (Sexton) was my freshman year of high school. I think he was a junior – and it got competitive. His team wound up winning but if we played again, I felt we’d have won. We’re gonna have those battles now that we’re on the same team, competing every day. We’re always gonna have those battles.”
The 6-6, 225-pound forward was regarded as one of the draft’s most explosive athletes. Although Okoro’s not a finished product offensively, he did lead the Tigers in scoring last season and lists his playmaking skills as arguably his most underrated skill. And he doesn’t turn 20 until late February.
"Our job is to make him successful; his job is to work at it. I think with the combination of those two things, we’ll get off to a great start and build him into the player we all believe he’s gonna be."
Okoro – whose last game for Bruce Pearl’s Auburn squad was March 7 – and those teammates who congratulated him will be getting to work very soon, with Camp tipping off in early December.
”What excites me is just the experience – being around my teammates here, just learning from the veterans and everybody who’s been here,” smiled the rookie wing. “I’ll need to learn the pace of the game, not rushing my shots, not rushing on the court, just slowing down and taking my time.”
J.B. Bickerstaff, who went 5-6 in his short stint after replacing John Beilein after last year’s All-Star Break, is looking forward to getting the best out of Okoro.
”We’re gonna put the time in,” said Bickerstaff. “But that won’t be new for him, the expectation of work will not be new for him. So we’re gonna lay it all out for him.
”Our job is to make him successful; his job is to work at it. I think with the combination of those two things, we’ll get off to a great start and build him into the player we all believe he’s gonna be.”
Okoro will get the official welcome when Training Camp tips off in a fortnight. In the meantime, the Young Bull’s been giving him some Cliff’s Notes on Cleveland.
”Our relationship goes way back from a young age. The conversations (we’ve had) are about just bringing the energy from day one, bring the competitiveness to Cleveland,” concluded Okoro. ”Atlanta and Cleveland have very different types of weather, and I didn’t come here with a lot of bubble jackets and big jackets. I came with a lot of small jackets from Atlanta weather. So, I’m gonna have to change up my wardrobe.”
From a social distance away, Coach Bickerstaff added: “It’s 75 and sunny every day in the gym.”