Isaac Okoro hasn’t been a part of the conversation when it comes to discussing the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman have been the trendier picks, but the 6-foot-6 Okoro says he deserves to be the top overall pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 18.
“Yes, I feel I should be the No. 1 pick because I go out every game and I compete and I give 100 percent effort,” Okoro said Saturday in an exclusive interview from Auburn, where he has been training. “I’m just willing to do whatever any coaches want me to do, so I feel like me bringing a winning culture I should be the No. 1 pick.”
Omar Cooper, Okoro’s agent, said “every team in the NBA has reached out for Isaac Okoro,” including the Timberwolves.
“I could see myself fitting in there, playing with D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns,” Okoro said. “I feel like I could come in there and play my role, do whatever the coach needs me to do in the game and just win.”
A former four-star recruit, Okoro averaged 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and two assists per game last season while being named to the SEC All-Defense, SEC All-Freshman and second-team All-SEC teams.
Cooper, who also coached Okoro with the Athletes of Tomorrow team on Nike’s
“Isaac can play the one through the four on offense and guard the one through the five on defense,” Cooper said. “And then being a kid who only played for one AAU team, one high school, one college, for his whole life he’s only played locally. So he’s not looking for the best team, the best situation. Even in open gym, he’ll tell me, ‘Just give me whoever you want on my team.’ He doesn’t say, “I want to play with this guy, this guy, this guy.’ He says, ‘Coach, just put me wherever you want to put me.’ And he finds a way to win with less.”
Cooper said Okoro will bring a winning culture to whatever team drafts him. He pointed out that Okoro carried an A average in high school, attends church regularly on Sundays and values his family and friends. He has won championships from the recreational level to middle school to high school to AAU to USA Basketball, and helped Auburn start last season 15-0.
“He’s not interested in the spoils of life, the money, the cars, the jewelry, the women, he’s not interested in that,” Cooper said. “He’s interested in competing at the next level. That’s why he wants to make it to the NBA and that’s why I feel he should be the No. 1 pick.”
“Isaac has separated himself with his winning culture from early on in life with what it takes to win,” Cooper added. “One thing he does, he likes to win but not more than he hates to lose. Isaac can’t sleep at night if he loses a game, so he puts everything he has into winning that game just so he can go to sleep at night. There’s been not many sleepless nights, but there’s been a few and he [doesn’t] like the feeling.”
Aware that his perimeter shot needs work, Okoro has been working on it at Auburn since the season ended.
“Yeah, I’ve been working on that, I’ve also just been working on all aspects of my game,” he said. “Just trying to polish everything up. In the NBA, you have to polish all aspects of your game, so I’ve been working on shooting, ball-handling, just every aspect of my game.”
NBA personnel and college basketball experts love his defense. As Auburn’s best defender, he often locked down opposing team’s top offensive options.
“Best perimeter defender in the draft,” one Western Conference executive said. “Huge upside, excellent character. Needs to shoot it more consistently.”
ESPN’s Seth Greenberg said Okoro was “the most physically dominant player” in one of the Kentucky games last season. Greenberg loves his defense and says Okoro compares to OG Anunoby of the Raptors and Jaylen Brown of the Celtics.
“He’s a perfect blend guy that can defend multiple positions,” Greenberg said. “He has a floor game. You can post him up. He’s a very good rebounder for his position. He’s got a hardness about him. He’s a hard driver that can get to the line.
“I really like the OG Anunoby comparison because people didn’t know if OG could shoot it, now obviously he’s making shots. He’s a winning player, he’s a competitive winning player.”
Asked if he saw Okoro as a potential No. 1 pick, Greenberg said, “I don’t see it. I see him as a lottery pick, I see him as 5, 6, 7.”
Okoro has been linked to the Knicks, who will pick at 8 unless they trade up, and he said he sees himself fitting in with a young roster that includes R.J Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.
“I know the Knicks have a great organization, they have a lot of young players right now,” Okoro said. “Possibly playing with the Knicks would be a great opportunity for me. I know that I could come into the team and play a role that the coach needs me to play. I know that they have a new coach in Tom Thibodeau and he’s a very defensive-minded coach. I feel like me coming it would be a great opportunity.”