After three standout seasons at the University of Connecticut, center Emeka Okafor was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats.
In his rookie year, he made an immediate impact, posting 15.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 35.6 minutes per game over 73 contests. As a result, he won the NBA's Rookie of the Year award.
But, oddly enough, his rookie year was the best overall campaign of his career, as his trajectory took a dip on a year-by-year basis for Charlotte, New Orleans and Washington. As a whole, he averaged a near double-double with 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds along with 1.7 blocks over 31.7 minutes per game in 590 games played, but given the expectations that he had when entering the league, he simply didn’t live up to his expected potential.
But, in fairness to him, he was consistent on a nightly basis and rarely produced any more or any less than his averages.
Having been out of the game since the 2012-2013 after he was sidelined with a herniated disk in his neck, Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press reported that Okafor has been cleared to return to action, is currently working out and is very determined to suit up in the NBA again.
It’s worth noting that Okafor turns 35 years old in September, but that’s not stopping him, according to Krawczynski.
Given his ability to control the glass and serve as an efficient shot-blocker, it remains to be seen whether or not an NBA team will come calling for the 6’10” center.
While the league is becoming more fast-paced and guard-driven, some of the rosters of this year’s playoff teams proved that having rim protectors can pay off.
Since he was out of the league for four seasons, there will definitely be some rust involved if any team decides to sign him and expectations will have to be tempered, but there’s no reason not to believe that he couldn’t contribute in some kind of role if he’s physically healthy.
Last summer, the rumors began to swirl that Okafor was eyeing a return. College coach Jim Calhoun said the following at that point:
“He’s in great shape,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “He had offers last season from teams for $6-7 million to play just a portion of the season, but you have to know Emeka. He’s only coming back when he feels the time is right. He’s not going to make a decision based on money. He doesn’t need it. This is a kid who graduated with a 3.9 GPA. He wants to play a couple more years then go to business school at Harvard. He’s only going to play for a contending team.”
Since money is not going to be a factor in his decision, contending teams are the first to come to mind when thinking about a potential landing spot.
Okafor’s agent Jeff Schwartz also spoke out last summer, since Okafor was working out in the hopes of earning a partial-season contract.
"He's probably five or six months away,'' Schwartz said in August. "He's been working hard rehabbing. For some guys that means one thing. To Emeka, who understands his body as well or better than some trainers that have worked with him, it means something else. He's healthy. He feels great, but he's a perfectionist, and he wants everything to be right.''
Now, it seems as though the perfectionist thinks his body is up to the task of competing at the highest level once again.