Auburn fans young and old got their first glimpse of an emerging star for the men's basketball team last week when true freshman Isaac Okoro thrilled the crowd with high-flying acrobatic dunks during the inaugural Tipoff at Toomer's event downtown.
Okoro won the dunk contest after windmill dunking a pass from Tyrell Jones that caromed off the side of the backboard. The dunk earned all 10s from the judges.
"They told us a week in advance we were going to have a dunk contest here, so throughout the week it’s been on my mind. After practice, I’ve just been practicing my dunks," Okoro said.
Those high marks won't be the last the true freshman earns this season, as he's expected to step into a starting role at small forward.
"That’s one of the reasons I came here. I feel like I’ll be contributor coming in to the team as a freshman and we’re just here to win," he said.
Okoro comes to the Plains from McEachern High in Powder Spring, Georgia, where he led the school to an undefeated record and state title last year while averaging 19.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.7 steals a game as a senior. Rivals.com and 247Sports.com ranked him as a five- and four-star recruit, respectively.
"He's a winner," said Pearl. "His jersey has been retired at McEachern High School as a state championship and national champion a year ago."
Okoro's physicality gives him the ability to step in right away and play, said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who added that he thought it was fair to compare Okoro with where Mustapha Heron was as a freshman.
"Mustapha was probably a better scorer. Isaac is a much better defender. They’re both good rebounders," said Pearl.
It's Okoro's aggressive defense that will likely set him apart from Heron and earn the true freshman more trust from Pearl, whose teams typically thrive on converting turnovers into fast-break points on the offensive end.
"Isaac is a physically dominating player," said Pearl. "He wants to be defined by his defense, his physically and his rebounding. He's working really hard on his outside shooting. That's the one area where people would say 'Well, can Isaac shoot the ball from the perimeter?' The mental hurdle of being able to be so dominant off the bounce and in other ways, shape or form, and the willingness to just let it go and understand that he can shoot the basketball, that's going to be a process for him. He's extremely coachable, high basketball IQ, incredible motor and one of the best athletes in our league."
Okoro said he's been working on his jump shot, taking 200-300 shots a day, and that he feels like it's improved as he's gone through summer workouts and started to prepare for his first season in college.
"You know, I’m picking up on the plays and stuff coach’s talking about very quick so I feel like that’s going to help me out," said Okoro.
Auburn fans will get their first chance to see Okoro and the 2019-20 Tigers in action when they host Eckerd in an exhibition game next Friday in Auburn Arena.