Seltzer's Notebook: Players Return, Workout Reports Positive
Okafor Eager to Get Started
Jahlil Okafor’s first professional season did not end the way he wanted it to.
After 53 appearances, the center, whom the 76ers drafted third overall in 2015, was found to have a minor meniscus tear in his right knee. The timing of the injury, combined with its projected timetable for recovery, resulted in Okafor missing the final six weeks of his rookie year.
“You don’t know how much you love something until it’s gone,” Okafor said Wednesday, following his participation in a charity speed reading event that benefited the Philadelphia Center for Literacy.
When he on the court last season, Okafor more than held his own, especially given his relative lack of experience. He wound up doing enough to rank second among his rookie peers in scoring (17.5 ppg), third in rebounding (7.0 rpg), and seventh in field goal percentage (50.8). Okafor also finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting, and was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team.
Now, the 20-year old is focused on moving forward.
“I’m so excited,” said Okafor, as he peered ahead to training camp.
“I had a successful summer,” he said. “First half of the summer, I went back to Duke University to pursue my degree. The second half of the summer, I went to [Los Angeles] to work out with my agency. I saw the [Sixers] in Vegas, and I was able to see how the guys improve, and see the new guys as well.”
Currently, to the naked eye, Okafor seems leaner, and more fit. A summer ago, he entered the pre-season weighing around 275 pounds. Prior to his knee operation in March, that figure had dropped to about 260 pounds.
In order to stay in shape while rehabbing, Okafor committed himself to following a healthful diet, one that he has maintained since being cleared to play again.
“It just went hand in hand,” said Okafor of sticking with his newly-adopted eating routine, “and I feel really good and am ready to get back on the court.”
Wednesday night, Okafor didn’t just sound like it, he looked like it, too.
New Personnel Creates New Energy
In the five months that have passed since the Sixers last played a game, the front office has managed to infuse the franchise with promising talent.
Of course, there’s this year’s top draft choice, Ben Simmons, and fellow first-rounder Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Veteran guards Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriguez were added through free agency. Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, two lottery picks from 2014, are on track to make their anticipated debuts.
These new faces on the Sixers’ roster have fostered a fresh atmosphere.
“Getting all the guys back into town last week, I don’t think there’s a lot of teams that have a full roster of guys ready to play, and work together this early in the season,” Nik Stauskas said Wednesday, at the Speed Read Challenge for the Center for Literacy in Philadelphia. “For all of us, it’s just great...to kind of get to know each other and bond on the court and off the court. It’s an exciting time of year.”
That sentiment was also echoed by Jahlil Okafor, who too attended Wednesday’s charity competition.
“The intensity that everybody’s going to bring, just to see how everybody’s going to mesh, it’ll be a good training camp,” said the big man.
With many of the Sixers’ players having already returned to the area, Stauskas, who devoted much of his off-season to improving his speed and strength, offered an encouraging report on the club’s recent workouts.
“Everyone’s been great, really impressive,” he said. “With Ben being the number one pick, and a lot of hype around Joel, those are two guys that have been very impressive thus far in our training. Now, it’s just a matter of time to get out there in pre-season, and start playing some real games together and see how we gel.”
No doubt, much of the intrigue surrounding the Sixers this year stems from the two prospects whom Stauskas named. The highly-touted Saric, however, coming off his best European professional season and a strong showing on this summer’s international circuit, contributes to the curiosity factor as well.
“He got in town a few days ago, and he looks phenomenal,” said Okafor. “Everybody on the team likes him, and he’s a great person, so it’s going to be easy to gel with him on the floor.”
The Sixers will conduct the training camp portion of their pre-season from September 27th through September 30th at Stockton University, located just outside Atlantic City. The squad is then scheduled to begin practicing at its nearly-completed, Camden, New Jersey-based training complex the first week of October.
“I personally can’t wait to get into the new practice facility,” Stauskas said. “It’s going to be great to have a little more space, a little more room for all of us to work out.
“With training camp being in Stockton, it’s a good opportunity for all of us to be all together, and just focus on us. There’s going to be no distractions out there, everyone’s going to be focused on one goal, and that’s getting better.”
Sixers, Firstrust Bank Team Up for Cause
Okafor and Stauskas formed one of the five two-person teams that competed in Wednesday’s first-ever Speed Read Challenge, held to raise money for the Center for Literacy in Philadelphia.
The duo’s rapid reciting of an excerpt from Roald Dahl’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was timed and graded by a panel of judges. Okafor and Stauskas wound up placing third.
“Nick and I held our own,” said Okafor. “There were some really fast readers out there, we couldn’t keep up, but I’ll take third place.”
Stauskas then chimed in, saying, “Jah got through the first full page. I slacked a little bit on the second page. I held us down a little bit. But, third place out of five isn’t bad.”
The sharpshooter joked, “Maybe we need to work on our reading a little bit more, read a few books in our off time.”
Jana Landon, an attorney from the law firm Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young, LLP, serves on the Center for Literacy’s board of directors. She was appreciative that the Sixers and corporate partner Firstrust Bank helped support the evening’s festivities.
“We love partnering with community organizations, and the Sixers were fantastic,” said Landon. “We not only had packages that involved going out to the games, but players in. You could really tell that when they were here, the energy just lifted in the room.”