2023 Playoffs: West First Round | Suns (4) vs. Clippers (5)

Under The Radar: Josh Okogie's hustle is nonstop

Josh Okogie has gone from an undrafted prep prospect to a key rotation player in Phoenix's playoff run.

Josh Okogie

In his first season with the Phoenix Suns, Josh Okogie is hoping to help win his team an NBA title.

When Josh Okogie was in 8th grade, his gym teacher at Shiloh Middle School attended one of his basketball games. After watching him blitz around the court full of energy, he dubbed Josh a new nickname: “Nonstop.”

“He was like, ‘Man, you’re just nonstop. That’s your new nickname,’” Okogie said in a phone interview last week.

That nickname inspired Josh’s Instagram handle (@Callme_nonstop), but it is who he is now — and who he’s always been.

Whether he’s playing in a gym with wooden bleachers as an 8th grader in Snellville, Ga., or guarding the NBA’s best in the 2023 playoffs, he’s always going full bore.

Okogie was born in Lagos, Nigeria, one of the largest cities in Africa. When he was three years old, his family won a visa lottery, which gave them the opportunity to emigrate to the United States. The rest of Okogie’s extended family — his aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas — still live in Nigeria.

Family roots are important to Okogie and he’s been back to Nigeria twice (in 2011 and 2019). One of the most proud moments in his life was representing his country and family at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics when he played for the Nigerian men’s national basketball team.

After moving to the U.S., the Okogies lived in Snellville, a town roughly 30 miles northeast of Atlanta. As a youngster, Okogie’s eldest brother, Evaristus, wanted to pick up a sport. Evaristus bought a basketball, but was too busy working multiple jobs to play.

From there, Josh Okogie began to pick the ball up and shoot hoops outside. “I just fell in love with it,” he said.

Okogie was an energetic and restless kid, and he brought that energy to the basketball court. His game started to come together in middle school, and by high school, he was developing into a legitimate college prospect.

After four years at Shiloh High School, he committed to Georgia Tech, the only major school he got an offer from. He arrived there as a 17-year-old unranked prospect, but he had an ambitious and deliberate four-year plan in mind.

He decided how many points he wanted to average each year from freshman to senior year, and then play in the NBA after his senior year. The goal was lofty and distant.

That plan didn’t come to fruition — instead, it accelerated. He averaged 16.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game his freshman season (2016-17), landing him an invite to the U19 USA basketball team in the summer.

“That’s when I [started] to see that the NBA was something that’s really tangible,” he said.

As a sophomore, he averaged 18.2 ppg and 6.3 rpg, receiving a third team all ACC nod. On June 21, 2018, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected him 20th overall in the 2018 NBA draft. He had reached his goal, and it was time to go to work.

He found his niche as a physical, in-your-face defender as a rookie, something he proved in a Feb. 13, 2019 game against Houston. He drew reigning MVP James Harden in that game and, on one play late in the 3rd quarter, Harden attempted his signature step-back jumper.

Okogie shadowed Harden and stuffed him as the shot clock expired, adding an emphatic celebration afterwards. Okogie was starting to solidify his role as a lockdown defender.

“I like playing defense,” he said. “I like being able to get stops and run [in transition].”

Josh Okogie locks up James Harden in a game from 2019.

After four seasons with the Timberwolves, Okogie entered unrestricted free agency as his time in Minnesota reached an end. Last summer, he signed with the Phoenix Suns.

His impact on defense was felt almost immediately there as he had a 108.0 defensive rating (14th in NBA with >60 GP and >20 MPG) while posting 7.3 ppg and 3.5 rpg.

“I do the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” said Okogie, the recipient of the Suns’ hustle award this season.

“It’s the confidence they put in everybody on the court,” Okogie said. “Everybody falls in love with the grind. What I bring to the table is appreciated, and guys want to win here.”

When Phoenix acquired Kevin Durant at the trade deadline, it made it clear that the Suns were focused on an NBA title run. It also freed up more minutes for Okogie as Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson — key role players in Phoenix — were dealt to Brooklyn.

Although Durant has just played in eight regular season and four postseason games for the Suns, Okogie has already learned from his new superstar teammate.

“[Kevin] works out like he hasn’t made a shot before,” he said. “Seeing that from somebody who is as great as he is, it shows guys like me that why do I need to take a day off? I got to stay in that grind and stay in the gym.”

Kevin Durant

Okogie and his new teammate, Kevin Durant, high five during a game against Minnesota.

Okogie, Durant and the Suns began their playoff trek against the LA Clippers in the first round. While outside pressure may abound to reach the NBA Finals, the team remains focused.

“I don’t think that we’ve done any ramping up here,” Okogie said of the playoffs. “We always do things at a high level. Now, we’re making sure that we’re all locked in on the same page and ready to go.”

Okogie says he’s ready to guard the NBA’s most talented players throughout Phoenix’s playoff run.

“I love the competition,” he said. “I love putting my two feet on the court, drawing that line, and trying to get stops.”

Okogie says the key to Phoenix winning an NBA title lies in their ability to stay level-headed and deal with adversity in the postseason. As for himself, Okogie’s playoff goals include working on offensive rebounding and providing energy to the Suns.

Overall, though, Okogie is grateful for his opportunity to be in the NBA and doesn’t want to forget what his nonstop ways have given him.

“I’m blessed to play the sport,” he said. “I wake up with gratitude every day. I play hard because God gave me the opportunity to go out there and do what I love to do. I’m forever grateful for that.”