He’s still a month away from training camp and nearly two months away from playing his first real NBA game, but Timberwolves first-round draft pick Josh Okogie already is an MVP.
He was named so for the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program, a three-plus day event held every summer to prepare the league’s newest players for the complex life they’re about to live.
Okogie didn’t even know there was such a thing, until he won it.
“Not really,” Okogie said. “I didn’t know that at all.”’
Rookies last week in the New York City area attended seminars on topics such as money management, social media and life after basketball and listened to speakers such as current NBA stars Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony as well as former star Grant Hill, who at age 45 now owns a piece of the Atlanta Hawks.
Okogie won based upon staff recommendations, by compiling points awarded during various competitions held and for displaying such qualities as leadership, participation and engagement that embody the program’s theme: Be a Pro.
“It means I was engaged,” he said. “It just means I ran a lot of discussions. I was contributing. I led my team in different activities.”
Drafted 20th overall in June out of Georgia Tech, Okogie was asked Tuesday if he knows yet what that really means to be a pro.
“That’s really what we were learning the whole week,” he said. “How to be professional. How to be responsible and how to be opportunistic. That’s what a pro means, both on and off the court. I’m still learning. I’m a rookie. I’m pretty sure I will face a lot of trials. I’ll face adversity, but if I’m responsible for my actions and if I’m opportunistic, I feel like I can get through that.”
Both Okogie and new teammate Keita Bates-Diop attended last week’s symposium. Each voted in and for their fellow rookies in a variety of categories. Neither player could vote for himself or for each other.
His peers picked Bates-Diop as the draft’s “biggest steal” after he fell out of a potential first-round spot to 48th before the Wolves picked him.
“I definitely do believe that,” Okogie said about Bates-Diop. “From where he was picked to what he’s going to do in the NBA, he’s definitely a steal.”
Bates-Diop received 13 percent of the vote, edging out Denver’s Michael Porter (14th overall) and San Antonio’s Lonnie Walker (18th). Phoenix’s DeAndre Ayton (first overall) and Cleveland’s Collin Sexton (eighth) tied in survey voting for most likely Rookie of the Year while Chicago’s Wendell Carter Jr. was considered the rookie most likely to have the best NBA career.
Okogie has spent his first summer as an NBA player “all over,” from the Wolves’ Mayo Clinic Square training facility to Las Vegas and his family home in Atlanta before he reports for pre-camp workouts in Minneapolis after Labor Day. He has worked alongside new Wolves teammates Tyus Jones, Gorgui Dieng and Justin Patton, but hasn’t yet come to know Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins.
A 6-4 shooting guard drafted for his drive and defense, Okogie impressed at Las Vegas Summer League with his speed and shooting.
“I played all right,” he said. “I did a lot of good things, but there are also things I can improve on. I learned just how fast this game is, how I have to better myself and stay in the game and be the best player I can be, whether it’s on the floor or in the locker room, whatever the case may be.”
He has been drafted, worn a Wolves jersey in summer league and learned a little what life in the pros is really like. But he said none of it hits home like it will when he steps onto the same court with Butler, Towns, Wiggins and coach Tom Thibodeau come next month’s training camp.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” Okogie said. “When I get to training camp and I’m getting yelled at, that will probably kind of wake me up. I’m pretty sure that will happen. I’ve never been on a team where the coach hasn’t yelled at me and especially with Coach Thibodeau, I don’t expect anything different.”