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Brooklyn gets its chance to say hello to new Net Jahlil Okafor

Center makes his Barclays Center debut as a Net in win over Wolves

This time, the wait was no problem for Jahlil Okafor.

Nearly a month had gone by since the 22-year-old center had joined the Brooklyn Nets, and he’d played in a single game. He’d spent the first six weeks of the season in limbo in Philadelphia, waiting to get out.

The next month with the Nets was a reboot as Okafor worked to get ready for the new opportunity. And Wednesday night, he got his restart. As it had been announced before Monday night’s game against the Magic, Okafor was part of the rotation for Brooklyn’s 98-97 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

“It was exciting just to be playing in front of the home crowd,” said Okafor. “It was fun. It was my first time in a while because when I played with Philly for a long time I was in Toronto, Utah. And then when I played with Brooklyn, I played in Toronto. So to finally play in front of a supportive crowd, it was a good feeling.”

Okafor made his first Barclays Center appearance as a Net when he took the court to start the second quarter. He played the first 6:17 of the quarter, scoring three minutes in, facing up at the foul line and then backing his way in through the lane before flipping in a basket.

The third-year pro played 11:10 in total, returning to the court for four minutes in the fourth quarter. He shot 1-for-3 and grabbed two rebounds.

“I thought he was solid,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “Understood what we’re doing. I just think it’s going to take him time. He really understood our system and was in the right place. Now our guys have got to learn how to play with him. It’s more with the chemistry with the group he’s going to be out there with. When to throw him the ball, when not. When does he go pick and roll. So there’s some hesitancy. But executed our pick and roll coverages perfectly. Offensively was in the right spots. I’d say very positive.”

It was just Okafor’s fourth game appearance of the season, and his first since Dec. 15, when he played 22 minutes and scored 10 minutes in Toronto a week after being acquired from Philadelphia.

“I’m happy with the way I performed,” said Okafor. “I’ve tried to work on making the team better and I think some of the stuff I talked about with coach, I was able to achieve such as screen sighting and communicating and being active, having energy, and I was able to do that.”

Atkinson envisions using Okafor as a facilitator as well as a scorer out of the post; a fulcrum to get the ball moving and defenses reacting. In the same way that Allen Crabbe or Joe Harris is a threat at the 3-point line, one that demands a defense’s attention, so does Okafor suck defenders in around the paint.

Wednesday night was just the first step. Okafor is looking forward to what comes next.

“Get my minutes up, that’s the next step for me,” said Okafor. “To have more of an effect on the game and the things that the coaches want me to improve on and implement that with what I do well.”

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