Hard Work in the Gym Pays Off With U17 Team Spot for Isaac Okoro
After missing the cut from the USA U16 team, Okoro went to work on his shot.
There were plenty of smiles back home in Powder Springs, Georgia, this week when family members, friends, teammates, coaches, teachers and classmates of Isaac Okoro heard the news he finally had made his dream come true.
Okoro had these people on his mind over the past year as he worked and toiled and sweated and pushed himself through hours in the gym in an effort to improve himself as a basketball player. All that effort paid off when he was named to the 2018 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Cup Team.
“I’m just so blessed right now, because last year I got cut and I was one of the first to get cut from the U16 team and I worked hard every single day to come back,” Okoro said.
When he left Colorado Springs, Colorado, last summer after learning he had not made the USA U16 team, Okoro rededicated himself to getting back for another opportunity at a national team.
He spent six days a week in the gym focusing on his entire game, but his jump shot in particular. He said he put up between 500 and 1,000 shots a day. He was inspired to work on his jumper by the report he received from USA Basketball last summer. It was critical of his perimeter shooting ability. He only took Sundays off to attend church and rest.
“So, every day after that, I got in the gym and worked on my jump shot, putting up 500 to 1,000 shots a day,” Okoro said. “I feel confident taking any shot from anywhere.”
On June 21, all of his hard work was rewarded when he found out he had been named a member of the 2018 USA U17 World Cup Team.
The 2018 FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup will be played between June 26 and July 8 in Rosario and Santa Fe, Argentina. Okoro and his teammates will be coached by Don Showalter, who has coached every edition of the U17 team since 2010 and has a perfect 30-0 record.
Showalter praised Okoro for taking a negative result a year ago and turning it into an amazing opportunity this summer.
“A year ago we were not even convinced that he was going to be coming back for training camp this year just based on his skill level,” Showalter said. “His skill level was good, but we have elite skill level at this age. So, we weren’t even sure he was going to be invited back, but throughout the year and then with his travel team, we got a really good look at him, and we felt he certainly deserved to come back out for our U17 training camp.
“The advancements he has made with his skill level is really significant. He is a much better ball handler and seems to understand the game very well, especially on defense. I feel he has improved a great deal on defense. He’s aware of where people are. He’s taking charges. He’s been a high-energy guy for us. We’re really pleased with his development.”
Showalter compared Okoro’s determination and his story to former USA U17 participant Justise Winslow, who was cut from the U16 team a year before making the U17 team. Winslow went on to play at Duke University and just completed his third season with the Miami Heat.
Okoro credited his parents, Gloria, a nurse, and Godwin, a private business owner, for instilling in him a work ethic and desire to never give up. He also credits his coaches for pushing him and working with him. He said he constantly thought of those faces as he worked to improve, not wanting to let them down.
When he learned he had been named a finalist for this summer's U17 World Cup team, Okoro explained what it would mean to him to go a step further and make the team.
“It would mean everything in the world to me,” he said. “I always imagined as a little kid just putting the gold medal on and having the USA across my chest. I would always watch the USA team and the NBA players and I just want to feel how they feel when they win gold medals.”
Through many hours in the gym and fierce determination, he has given himself that chance.