Sixers' Jahlil Okafor anxious to get back on court, play for USA Select Team


Jahlil Okafor is back taking classes at Duke this summer. 

The Sixers' big man appeared on Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer's podcast The Offseason on Friday and spoke about going back to school to pursue his degree, his rehab process and the chance to be a part of USA Basketball.

Okafor missed the final 23 games of his rookie season with a torn meniscus in his right knee that required surgery. On the podcast, Okafor said he is now 12 weeks removed from his surgery and hoped to be completely cleared for basketball workouts this weekend. 

"I am getting anxious," Okafor said. "I got in trouble a week and a half ago for going out there and shooting. The biggest problem is my knee feels really good, so I want to go out there and shoot."

The 20-year-old is rehabbing at Duke, but he's also back to finish his education. Okafor promised his family he would return to the school and get a degree, so he is taking two classes at the Durham, North Carolina, campus this summer. 

"My aunt, who plays the role of my mother pretty much now, she got her Ph.D," Okafor said. "I watched her go through that whole process. My father has his master's degree. My uncle does as well, so they pretty much told me that I have to get some form of degree before I can really consider myself an Okafor."

Okafor had seen former Duke guard and current Portland Trail Blazer Gerald Henderson go back for his degree, which motivated the Sixer to do so himself. He said he is in class with Grayson Allen, his former teammate, and is being treated like anyone else. 

"It's a special place," he said of the college. "I'm not being hassled or bothered in class. I'm just another student."

In his first NBA season, Okafor averaged 17.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks, earning a spot on the All-Rookie team. Scheyer's guest co-host, former Duke and Trail Blazers guard Nolan Smith, asked Okafor about his "Welcome to the NBA" moment. Okafor mentioned getting dunked on by fellow Chicago native and Duke star Jabari Parker as well as a dunk by DeMar DeRozan and a block by Quincy Acy as the ones that stood out to him. 

He had plenty of good moments as well. The game that stood out most to Okafor was his first matchup against his childhood idol, Tim Duncan. While the Sixers lost, Okafor scored 19 points and had nine boards in the matchup. 

The toughest part of his transition to the NBA was finding a routine amidst a slate of constant travel.

"You're just always on the road, and it's always these different environments," Okafor said. "It seemed like every day I was playing in a new stadium. I just tried to get myself in a routine where I could get some type of comfort."

Waiting for Okafor at the end of his rehab is a chance to play as a part of the 2016 USA Men's Select Team that will train with the national team in Las Vegas from July 18-21 (see story). The honor has Okafor anxious to get on the court.

"I'm so excited. I'm so excited," he said. "It makes you want to go downstairs and run and shoot right now. Unfortunately I can't.

"Even through the [college] recruitment process, this was always my vision to be on this team at one point and hopefully make it to the big stage and be able to perform and represent Team USA in the Olympics. Just to have a part in that and help the team get ready, I'm excited about it."

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