By Reinaldo Bessa

It all started in the 2019 summer after a terrific performance in the FIBA U16 European Division B tournament. ND Okafor came out from nowhere and started to pick up interest from many teams all over the globe. After some months through Europe, Canada and the United States, he ended up playing in Mexico where he attends the Latin America NBA Academy. Okafor, a top-25 in the Eurohopes 2003-born ranking, is now weighing his options: turning pro, enrolling NCAA or the G-League.
How did you start playing basketball?
It was kind of a funny story because when I was younger I played football, but I just kept growing and being bigger than everyone on the field so people started pushing me to basketball and I gave it a try. At first, I didn’t like it at all and went back to football but after one year people said that I really had to try out for the team in the school so I did it again and I had so much fun. I felt in love with basketball and after some time I went on to play for a local club and all kicked off from that.

Which players you grew up looking at the most? Was there any Irish who caught your attention?
The players I grew up looking at the most were Anthony Davis, Michael Porter Jr. and Lebron James. I always tried to copy their moves and model my game after. There was not really any Irish player that caught my attention but there is Aiden Harris Igiehon who moved at a young age to the US. He gave me a lot of motivation and really showed Irish kids that they could go to a different country to play basketball.

You shined for Ireland on the 2019 U16 European Championship. How was the experience?
My individual goal going into the U16 European Championship was to show scouts and coaches my talent, and get some exposure out there because before the tournament I wasn’t really known, I was just playing basketball locally so I really wanted to put my name out there in the European scene. As a collective our goal was to be the first ever Irish squad to be promoted to the A division.

How is it going your preparation during the pandemic?
The pandemic set the season at NBA Academy back and cancelled all the tournaments we were supposed to go to so they sent everybody back home. At the moment I am home with my family and NBA Academy coaches send us the workouts via The Bridge app: ball handling workouts, strength workouts, rubber bands workouts. We will be back soon to the campus, I can’t wait.
You decided to leave your country at an early age. Why did you decide this path was the best option for you?
I felt it was the best thing to do. I wanted to experience life and basketball outside of Ireland. I was getting bored of playing basketball because I was winning everything and it was getting easy. So I decided to leave so I could get better conditions for my development and education and also to get more exposure which, eventually, was the bigger reason.

You were recruited by some schools in North America before joining NBA Academy. Why did you decide Canada and the US were not good options to develop your game prior your High School graduation?
I felt like Canada was not going to give me the level of competition I wanted. And in the US, I was not really happy because the school I was in was not giving me the competition level I wanted. I wanted to test myself against the best players and be in the best position to succeed; that’s why I chose the NBA Academy.

What is the NBA Academy helping you the most in terms of basketball?
Everything, from my jumpshot to my body structure. Also, the education is very good, the exposure is really big and they have a great structure that gives us the best conditions. We have access to the fields and all the areas and things we need to develop. They do a great work teaching us also very important life skills.

You have been offered by multiple colleges. Tell us a little about that process...
It all started after the U16 European Championship. I started to get a lot of attention from colleges and big European clubs. When I moved to Canada, the interest started to get bigger. Arizona is one of the colleges that saw me there and was interested. Actually, I have a great relationship with one of the Arizona assistant coaches. He saw me in Canada and he told me he was interested in me. There is also an NBA Academy prospect that is at Arizona now, Ben Mathurin. With Baylor, I met them in Dallas, Texas and went on a visit to their school, I met a few of their players and overall was great.

Where do you see yourself in the future?
My long-term goal is to play professionally in the NBA or Euroleague but my main goal is to reach the NBA and help my family. As far as the path goes I am trying to keep everything open which might be European clubs, NCAA, G-League... But as of now, I have different options and I will keep them open until it’s time to make a decision.