Soon after forward Chuma Okeke went to the floor with a torn ACL in the Tigers' Sweet 16 matchup with North Carolina, many thought the sophomore would return to the Plains for another season to rehab and increase his stock in the NBA Draft.
Okeke decided to forgo another season at Auburn, though, after hearing back from NBA teams. That decision turns out to be as on-point as many of the star forward's shots after the Orlando Magic selected him last week with the 16th overall pick in the NBA Draft.
The Magic took a calculated risk on Okeke, shelving concerns about his injury in favor of all the intangibles the rising star brings to the table.
Okeke checked all of the boxes for the Magic. High IQ player? Check. Versatility on both offense and defense.?Check. Check. Good shooter, passer and rebounder? Check. Check. Check.
You get the point.
In addition to those attributes, Okeke is a great defender capable of guarding just about any position on the floor. He also exhibits a trait that endeared him to his coaches, teammates and fans — he's a selfless team player with high character.
Aside from his basketball acumen, Okeke's character off-court and in the locker room might have been the biggest reason he didn't fall further in the draft.
"It wasn't a surprise," said Jeff Weltman, president of basketball operations for the Magic when asked about how players and fans rallied around Okeke after his injury against the Tar Heels. "We were already tracking him very closely. We were very impressed by the impact he makes on people around him. He’s not an extroverted, look-at-me type of guy — he’s just very workmanlike and he’s consistent and he plays for his team first. And so those are the sorts of people that the fans and coaches gravitate toward and they lift other people and those are the sorts of people we want to bring here."
Okeke's skills and potential on the court combined with his high character made his selection a no-brainer for Weltman.
"Not a chance," he said on whether Okeke could have dropped to the second round. "I think that there were a lot of teams that had their eye on him, and the kind of guys that you always have to watch out for are the ones that no one is talking about. I don’t think that there was any shot that he would have gotten to the second round at all."
The Magic might have caught a little flack for the pick, but they made the right call.