Chukwuemeka Ndubuisi Okafor, abbreviated as Emeka Okafor (born September 28, 1982, in Houston, Texas), is an American professional basketball player playing at power forward and center for the Charlotte Bobcats of the National Basketball Association. Prior to the NBA, Okafor attended Houston's Bellaire High School, and the University of Connecticut.
Both of Okafor's parents are natives of Nigeria and Okafor was the first member of his family born in the United States. "Emeka" is a nickname for the Igbo name "Chukwuemeka" (meaning "God has done great").
Emeka's family moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma when he was young because his father worked for Phillips Petroleum Company; the headquarters is in Bartlesville. While in Bartlesville, Emeka's father Pius took his son to the Bartlesville YMCA to learn the game of basketball.
High School Career
Okafor played at Bellaire High School, and played there with future Oklahoma State star John Lucas III. Okafor averaged 22 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocks in his senior season. Bellaire was 26-5 in that season, losing 56-42 in the third round of the 2001 UIL State playoffs, to Willowridge High School and future Texas standout T.J. Ford. This game is particularly notable, however, because it featured five players who would go on to play in an NCAA Final Four (Bellaire had Lucas and Okafor, while Willowridge featured Ford, Oklahoma State's Ivan McFarlin and Duke's Daniel Ewing). All five of these players would eventually go on to play at least a season in the NBA.
Okafor flew under the recruiting radar for much of his high school year, but by the end of his senior year Okafor was receiving late interest from top programs and chose to accept a scholarship at the University of Connecticut, choosing the Huskies over Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
He is notable for being a forward/center on the University of Connecticut men's basketball team from 2001-04 where he was teammates with Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon, and Josh Boone who all went to play in the NBA. Okafor, the son of Nigerian immigrants who are Igbo, is known for not only being a good basketball player but also for being an elite student. His major at UConn was finance, and he graduated with honors after three years in May 2004 with a 3.8 GPA. One of his last courses at UConn was an honors-level finance course where students were allowed to make investment decisions for a small portion of UConn's endowment. Okafor was named the Academic All-American of the Year in 2004 for his work on and off the court.
The 6'10" (2.08 m) Okafor is noted for his impressive defensive ability, especially his shot-blocking. Although he was plagued by back problems for most of the 2003-04 season, Okafor led UConn to the program's second national title in six seasons. He was crowned as the NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
In addition, Okafor led the nation in blocks that season and was also named National Defensive Player of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He also received the Big East Player of the Year award. Okafor graduated as Connecticut's leader in blocked shots with 441.
On February 5, 2007 his number was retired at Gampel Pavilion on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs during halftime of the men's basketball game against the Syracuse Orange as part of the "Huskies of Honor" ceremony which recognized personal accomplishments of 13 former players and 3 coaches.
On April 16, 2004, he declared his eligibility for the 2004 NBA Draft, giving up his one remaining year of college athletic eligibility. He did however receive his undergraduate degree in Accounting/ Finance in three academic years. On June 24, Okafor was selected second overall in the draft, becoming the first ever draft pick by the expansion Charlotte Bobcats. The following day, he accepted an invitation to join the United States team for the 2004 Summer Olympics, which finished with the bronze medal in Athens.
2004-05: Rookie Season
The 2004-05 NBA season was a successful campaign as Okafor coped well with the pressures of being the star rookie on an expansion franchise. Highlights of the season included recording 19 straight double-doubles from November 21 through January 1, and finishing seventh among Eastern Conference forwards in NBA All-Star Game fan balloting with 408,082 votes, by far the highest number garnered by any rookie in 2005. At the end of the season, Okafor beat out his friend and former college teammate and roommate, Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon, to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.
On June 24, 2005, the Bobcats picked up the option for the fourth year on Okafor's contract, as he has quickly established himself as the face of the franchise, and a solid player for years to come. Okafor finished his rookie season with 44.7% field goal percentage and per-game averages of 15.1 points, 10.9 rebounds (ranked 4th in the league), and 1.7 blocks.
In the offseason between his rookie and second years Okafor bulked up gaining 20 pounds going from 260 to 280 lbs. It is this weight gain which he feels caused him to have trouble rehabbing his early season ankle injury and forced him to sit out most of the 2005-06 season with injuries to his ankle. Nonetheless in the few games he played he was effective as he averaged a double-double for the second consecutive season. For the season he finished with averages of 13.2 ppg on 41.5% shooting, 10.0 rpg., and 1.9 bpg.
Early into the 2006-07 season, Emeka Okafor has established himself as one of the best young centers in the NBA. During the offseason he continued his tutorials with Hakeem Olajuwon, which he took up after his rookie season, and lost the 20 pounds which he had gained for his second season. Okafor feels this weight loss gives him more energy and mobility. He currently leads the Bobcats in rebounds per game, blocks per game, and field goal percentage. He also had 8 blocks in one game this season against the Dallas Mavericks. On January 12, 2007, he would record an NBA season high 10 blocks in one game against the New York Knicks.
- His first name means "God has done well.
- Cites Toronto and New York as his favorite NBA cities on the road.
- Okafor is on the cover of NCAA March Madness 2005 and is the best overall rated player in NCAA March Madness 2004 with a 90 rating.
Awards and Accomplishments
- NBA Rookie of the Year: 2005
- NBA All-Rookie First Team: 2005
- UConn biography
- One Million African Lives Initiative - Emeka Okafor's initiative to save African lives