Tuesday , Jun , 29 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Bobcats got their man in Okafor

(Sports Network) – When the Charlotte Bobcats moved up from No. 4 to No. 2 in
the NBA Draft, they were hopeful that Connecticut’s Emeka Okafor would be
there for them to select.

After the Orlando Magic picked high school phenom Dwight Howard with the first
overall selection in the draft, the Bobcats realized that their wish had come
true.

“We’re elated to be able to start and build our franchise and our basketball
team around a young man who dominates the game on defense,” said Charlotte
general manager and head coach Bernie Bickerstaff. “I think that’s
how you win basketball games – through your defense, through doing the dirty
things. It’s been a long week, a long month, a long year, but we’ve finally
arrived and this is what it’s all about – a product. We think this is the
beginning of something good for the Charlotte Bobcats.”

It was up in the air as to which player the Magic were leaning towards taking.
Orlando had questions about Okafor’s back, while the Bobcats were convinced
that he was healthy and ready to go. When Charlotte dealt the fourth overall
selection in addition to its second-round selection, 33rd overall, to obtain
the No. 2 pick from the Los Angeles Clippers, the plan was to draft the
Connecticut product. The Bobcats also agreed to select Predrag Drobnjak in the
expansion draft from the Clippers in the deal to move up in the draft.

“Up until 7:30 p.m. when it (the draft) started, I was calm as can be,” said
Okafor. “After I heard Dwight Howard’s name, I knew that my name was going to
be called by Charlotte but I still felt jittery.”

Okafor is happy to be going to a franchise that wants to build around his
talents.

“I’d like to let you guys know how happy I am to be here,” said Okafor. “I’m
getting a real nice feeling and a real warm welcome. I’m looking forward to
being part of this new franchise and new family and having a lot of fun with
the people here in Charlotte, North Carolina.”

Okafor, who led Connecticut to the NCAA Championship in April, captured Most
Outstanding Player honors at the Final Four after scoring 24 points and
grabbing 15 rebounds in the national championship game against Georgia Tech. A
First Team All-American, Okafor led the nation in blocked shots and averaged
17.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game for Connecticut in 2003-04.

The 21-year-old Okafor has been compared to former NBA great David Robinson.

“He (Robinson)had a great career, so it’s nothing but an honor to be compared
to him,” said Okafor. “I think everybody in this league is just unique. I
can’t really say that I want to play like this person or that person.
Everybody brings something different to the table.”

The Bobcats’ franchise is already off to a great start. They had a plan and
were able to follow through on it. Charlotte is fortunate that Orlando decided
to go with Howard over Okafor.

CHL