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Emeka Okafor

In the days preceding the 2004 NBA draft, the main question circulating around NBA circles was who was going to be drafted first: high school phenom Dwight Howard or 3-year college star Emeka Okafor.  The Orlando Magic used their first pick to choose Howard and with the second pick, the expansion Charlotte Bobcats selected Okafor. 

Both rookies have played extremely well so far in this young season, although it appears now that Okafor is elevating his game to become the leading contender for the Rookie of the Year award.  Okafor was clearly the most NBA-ready player coming out of the draft with his chiseled man features and college experience which saw him lead his University of Connecticut to an NCAA championship.  Though everybody knew Okafor for his defensive abilities, his offensive contributions, once considered a liability, have been a welcomed surprise for the Bobcats. 

Okafor has been on a role lately as he solidifies his role as top-dog on his talent-challenged team.  He has even improved his offensive game to the point where he is becoming the team’s go-to guy during crunch time.  Okafor has had a double-double in the team’s last 11 games.  During that span, he has averaged 17.6 points and 12.8 rebounds a game.   

To date, Okafor is leading all rookies in minutes played, points (14.3), and rebounds (11.3; which also ranks forth in the league).  He is also in formidable company being fifth in the league with number of double-double games (13) only behind Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Shawn Marion. 

Besides his obvious talent, another thing that made Okafor so attractive to the Bobcats is his intelligence, his iron determination, and his ability to quickly adapt to any situation.  Arriving on the University of Connecticut’s campus as a gifted but raw talent, Okafor had worked himself into a polished, refined basketball machine.  Okafor started as a freshman but was used mainly for his intimidating defensive presence.  He had averaged 7.9 points and 9.0 rebounds a game that year.  By the time he graduated, Okafor left the NCAA as its best player, averaging 17.6 points and 11.5 rebounds.  He did that all through sheer determination and unrelenting hard work.     

The son of Nigerian immigrants, Okafor has been used to hard work all his life, in fact, it has been constantly demanded from his overachieving father.  His father had earned two masters degrees and is close to finishing his PhD, while supporting his family in America.  Academics have always been important in the Okafor family, and Emeka personified the student-athlete.  He completed his finance degree a year earlier, all while maintaining a stunning 3.8 GPA. 

If Okafor continues developing at the same rampant rate, then great things will come from his career.  He is continually improving his offense, an aspect of his game that had been repeatedly criticize, and his already imposing defensive presence should become even more so with experience.  Those who know him, sees his rise to greatness as inevitable.