PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Jahlil Okafor is a fan of Steph Curry and enjoyed watching the MVP lead the guard-heavy Golden State Warriors to an NBA championship.
He still thinks the best road to a title is through the big man.
That’s what makes the 6-foot-11 center out of Duke glad to join the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that already features young, potential stars Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid.
Okafor was the third overall pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night and one of five players the Sixers selected in an effort to rebuild.
“For as long as I remember, big men have dominated the NBA,” Okafor said at a news conference Saturday. “People got a little excited because of what Steph Curry did _ and he was fantastic. But as long as I remember, big men have been dominating and the results have been championships.”
Okafor, who won a national title in his one season at Duke, looked up to two of the best championship-winning centers: Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon. As post player who likes to play with his back to the basket, he borrowed many of their moves, too.
“I’ve always been the tallest guy in my age group, which always made me go right down in the post,” Okafor said. “Around sixth or seventh grade, I fell in love with Tim Duncan and his all-around game. That’s when I started watching him. Then my father introduced me to Hakeem Olajuwon. Those were the two guys I modeled my game after.”
One of the other Sixers’ draft picks, J.P. Tokoto, knows firsthand just how dominant Okafor can be in the paint. A swingman for North Carolina, Tokoto played against Okafor twice this season and was watched Duke win both games. .
Sometimes, Tokoto couldn’t help but marvel at the Duke center who averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds last season.
“Big Ja, he’s a game-changer,” Tokoto said. “If you’re not doubling him, he’s beating whoever is guarding him one-on-one. He’s a handful. I watched that play a couple times and wondered how someone that big could move so well.
“But he was great footwork. He’s a very skilled big man, and I’m glad to be part of the same 76ers organization.”
Tokoto, who was picked 58th overall in the draft, will contend with BYU’s Richaun Holmes (37th) and Arturas Gudaitis (47th) and Luka Mitrovic (60th).
But the 6-6 swingman, who decided to enter the draft following his junior year, believes his defense will help him make a crowded Sixers roster.
“I’m most confident in my defensive ability and my athletic ability on the court,” Tokoto said. “That’s what got me here.”
Holmes took a less conventional road to the NBA.
The 6-8 power forward said he had a late growth spurt and didn’t get many offers in high school, so he opted to play one year in junior college before heading to Bowling Green. Holmes excelled with the Falcons, averaging 14.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks as a senior.
But it wasn’t until he played at the Portsmouth Invitational against some of the nation’s other top college seniors that he got the attention of pro scouts.
“Coming from Bowling Green, there was not a lot of exposure,” Holmes said. “I just came in with the attitude to play as hard as I could and let the chips fall where they may.”