Isaac Okoro Ready to Bring Aggressive Defense to Nike Hoop Summit
Isaac Okoro sees no two ways about it. He likes to play defense, something of a rarity in the rip-and-go style of modern basketball.
“I like to watch Kawhi Leonard,” said the 6-foot-6 Okoro, from Powder Springs, Georgia, in metro Atlanta. “I like the defensive presence he brings, the way he does the little things right to help our team win.”
Okoro tries to emulate the attributes of the Toronto Raptors forward, who has similar size to the still-maturing high school senior.
Okoro, who helped USA Basketball to the gold medal at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Argentina, is one of a dozen players who once again will emblazon USA across their chests for the Nike Hoop Summit against a team of international stars on Friday, April 12 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. (Tickets)
“Winning a gold medal, man, that was one of the best feelings I ever got on a basketball court,” said Okoro, who turned 18 in January. “Touching that gold medal, it was a blessing. That’s the first time I’ve ever been out of the country, and I learned a lot of stuff about Argentina, the weather and the culture there.”
He especially is looking forward to the Nike Hoop Summit, where he will be reunited with fellow 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup gold-medal winners Isaiah Stewart, Vernon Carey Jr., Wendell Moore Jr. and De’Vion Harmon.
“That was such an incredible experience,” he said. “I usually don’t play with the top-ranked players in the country, so learning how they play, trying to play with different players and just communicating was a learning experience for me.”
Okoro has a passion for learning, so much so that he was named physics student of the month at McEachern High School in Powder Springs.
At 200 pounds, Okoro’s chiseled frame and athleticism on the court is a mirror of his work in the classroom.
“Oh my, since day one, my parents always let me know that school comes first, basketball comes second,” he said. “I always go to school trying to learn something every day. I don’t take any days off in school or in basketball.”
Okoro’s mom, Gloria, is a nurse and his dad, Godwin, runs his own business. They are role models that fuel his passion to excel in every aspect of life. It pays off everywhere.
Okoro attended four USA Basketball training camps from 2016 to 2018 before finally getting the nod to represent his country at the FIBA U17 World Cup. Not being selected for national teams at the other camps just fueled his determination to work harder on the court, in the gym and in the classroom.
It also helped him embrace his high school teammates in a basketball-crazed area of the country. McEachern has made the state playoffs in each of Okoro’s four years, this year making it all the way to the championship final, the best finish ever.
He said he wasn’t a key part of the drive to the state playoffs as a freshman, despite averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds a game as his team went 26-4. As a sophomore, he led the team to the state semifinals, going 29-1 while he averaged 22.5 points per game. Last year, they went 26-3 and made it to the quarterfinals.
“After my freshman year experience, it taught me how to be more aggressive,” he said. “My sophomore year, I took the lead, and now, our whole team is playing hard as a team. It’s special this year, because we’ve played together so long now. This is definitely the best team I have been on in my four years here.”
He said he feels Georgia is one of the best states in the country for high school basketball, and the crowds pack the gyms.
He signed his letter of intent to continue his career at Auburn University, where he hopes to mature in the classroom and on the court, getting his body and mind ready for a potential future in the NBA.
“Right now I don’t feel I’m ready for the NBA,” he said. “I still feel I have some skill sets that I need to work on to prepare for the NBA.”
He has an older brother and two older sisters, none of whom played basketball at a high level.
“Everybody in my family has their own thing they’re really good at,” he said.
It’s pretty clear that Okoro’s thing is basketball.