Former USC Trojans star
Okongwu was drafted sixth overall by the Atlanta Hawks during the 2020 NBA Draft. He wore a special bracelet at USC to honor Nnamdi who passed away after a skateboarding accident at a young age.
According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Sarah K. Spencer, No. 17 represents his brother’s age at the time of his death.
Last season, Okongwu was dominant in his lone season at USC. He averaged 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds. He set a USC freshman record with 76 blocks and was named to the Pac-12 Freshman and All Pac-12 first team.
He carried his brother’s memory with him at each stop. Last season, he wore his brother’s high school number. Now, he will honor him another special way in the NBA.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Okongwu vowed to continue playing basketball in remembrance of Nnamdi.
“I’m wearing this number for somebody,” Okongwu told the Los Angeles Times. “Whenever I wear it, gotta put respect on it.”
The Hawks selected Okongwu to help solidify their frontcourt. He brings an additional toughness that can protect the rim and create additional opportunities on the offensive end of the floor.
Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk believes that Okongwu will be a solid contributor for the franchise. He mentioned that several NBA evaluators called Okongwu a “beast” on the floor.
“One of the things that really stood out about him as we interviewed all these kids, every team that had a player that played against
Okongwu will likely need time to rehab from a fractured big toe that he suffered this offseason. The Hawks will continue to monitor his recovery and noted that they were not concerned about it being a long-term injury.
The team mentioned his MRI was taken four weeks ago and they feel confident that Okongwu will be a valuable playmaker this season.
The Hawks have the resources with NBA veteran Clint Capela to manage the center position while Okongwu heals. He will be given time to get fully healthy before he is inserted in to the lineup.
As for his potential, 247Sports National Recruiting Analyst saw flashes of Tristian Thompson in his game.
“Decent size for a post player and has long arms. Plus athlete both vertically and laterally. One of the top defenders in the 2019 class regardless of position. High level shot-blocker who uses length and timing to protect the rim. Versatile defender who should be able to guard fours and fives. Improving offensive game, and has the ability to post up and score from midrange. Continued development on offense and expanded range with jumper will be key for hitting long-term potential.”
The Hawks look forward to seeing him on the floor this season when the NBA kicks off the 2020-2021 season in December.