It Has Been A Challenging Year For Stan Okoye(Nigerian National Team) With COVID With Spending Time In The Dark To Beating Team USA

Stan Okoye guarding Boston Celtic Jayson Tatum

Stan Okoye (198-SF-91, college: VMI) is a 30 year old 198cm forward from North Carolina that has the American/Nigerian citizenship. He made his debut with the Nigerian national team in 2013 andplayed at the 2019 World Cup averaging 5.2ppg, 2.0rpg, 2.0apg. Currently he is with the Nigerian national team and belongs to the roster for the 2021 Olympics. He began his basketball career at Knightdale High School and then played at Virginia Military Institute (NCAA) form 2009-2013 playing a total of 123 NCAA games. He put up huge stats in the NCAA and as a senior played 31 games averaging 21.5ppg, 9.4rpg, 2.6apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 45.1%, 3PT: 36.6%, FT: 66.8%. As a professional player he played his first season in Australia, Greece and Israel, but since 2014 has concentrated playing in top leagues Italy and Spain. He played three seasons in Italy and will be playing his fourth season in Spain in 2021-2022 and second with Casademont Zaragoza (Spain-ACB).He spoke to about his basketball career.

Stan Okoye dunking on Team USA

Stan thanks for talking to Where are you and how is basketball life treating you?

Hey, Miles. I’m currently in Las Vegas, with the national team, we’re continuing our preparation for Olympics. The basketball life has been treating me pretty well, I enjoy being able to do this for as long as I have.

Before we talk about your basketball career, please explain how you experienced COVID last season with your season with Herbalife Gran Canaria (ACB). What were the biggest challenges that you personally faced and had to deal with?

Well most of the year we had avoided issues with the virus. It was very challenging to play without fans, but the games had to continue and eventually we got accustomed to it. Unfortunately, I caught the virus in February when I was in a good moment during the season. I had pretty strong symptoms and it took me a while to feel normal again. My team continued to do well, which I was very happy about, and we ended up having a pretty good season.

With everything that you dealed with during COVID in the last year off the court, how do you feel did it make you stronger as a man?

I wouldn’t say that it made me stronger, but it revealed a lot of things. The initial quarantine that began in March of 2020 was especially tough. Being alone for two months, without real face-to-face interactions took its toll on me. I found myself in bed a lot, in the dark for most of the day, just wishing the time would pass. Eventually, I was able to pick up on things that made my days more positive. Apart from exercising I would read, study some Spanish, watch documentaries, and catch up with friends from around the world that I hadn’t spoken to in a while. It made me appreciate more the small things that I have and the people that are in my life.

Currently your with the Nigerian national team preparing for the 2021 Summer Olympics. Was the amazing 90-87 win over USA one of your biggest wins in your career?

It was one of the biggest wins in my career. It meant a lot being able to beat them. My first year with the national team was in 2013, a year after the big loss we faced against the USA in the London Olympics. In 2016 I was a member of the team who also lost to them in an exhibition match in Houston. For me, this win was a sign of progress that this team has made since then, and I’m more proud of that than anything else.

USA had pretty much everyone there except for Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton who are fighting for the NBA title with the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks. How highly can one rate a win like this?

I am sure USA will play totally better when the Olympics start. I don’t know how to rate it, but at this stage all of the teams are just evaluating themselves and seeing what they need to work on. Though it was a historic moment for Nigerian basketball, our team is focusing on our performance in Tokyo.

You’re a veteran that has played many years in Italy and best league in Europe ACB in Spain and have seen your share of great teams and players. But still when you get on the floor and see all these incredible USA players, is one in awe just for a moment or were you able to block it out?

I was able to block it out. For sure there are moments in the game where something very impressive happens, but we were there to competing and trying to win a game. It’s always an honor to be able to play against those guys, but I see my teammates as very special players as well.

When you see all these NBA players and look at your career having played four years in the ACB, do you have that certain satisfaction that not only can you hang with these players, but that you could play in the NBA and make a difference if just given the chance?

I’ve always had that thought in my mind. I never thought I would be a superstar on that level, but I know that I could fit in a role that could help a team win, no matter how big or small that role might be. But I’m happy with how far I’ve come already, to be able to play ball for a living is already a dream come true.

What was it playing against Draymond Green? Do you watch a guy like that closely to try to pick some new nuisances from his defense to help your game?

Yeah it’s interesting to see certain guys like him who isn’t always the most talented player, but sometimes the most impactful because of their defensive intensity and IQ. I have a lot of respect for what he does out there on the court.

Except for the top Players like a Durant, Green, Taytum, Beal, etc was there a player that impressed you that you wouldn’t have thought could be before the game? Well everyone on that team is a household name already.

I was super impressed with my teammates performances, and most proud of how my guy Caleb Agada played that game. I know how good teammates are, and to see it displayed in such a way was fulfilling.

I can’t remember the NIgerian national team ever having 6 NBA players on a roster. Is this the strongest team that Nigeria has ever had?

I believe it is, year by year in every major competition this team gets stronger and it has shown, with 3 consecutive Olympics appearances from this team and more young Nigerians being drafted in the NBA each year.

Talk a little about the Nigerian team. Obviously your athleticism stands out, but what other strengths does the team have that will help them have success?

Defensively we have shown that we can control the pace of the game with our intensity on that end of the floor. That’s something that must remain consistent to be able to win out there. We also have a team full of capable shooters, something that we really haven’t had in the past. Lineups in positions 1-5 that can spread the floor and knock down 3’s.

The minutes are balanced very well. No player eclipsed more than 20 minutes against USA. How strong is the team versatility and depth?

Yeah the team is pretty deep, a lot of athleticism and guys with similar skill sets. Everyone plays extremely hard on both ends, so I anticipate seeing short spans of playing time.

What has it been like practicing with Precious Achiuwa? He is a big talent. Where do you see a player like that going with his game in the next three years?

The sky is the limit for him, he’s extremely gifted and a very hard worker. I can see him being a very important piece on a successful team. The future is bright for him.

Talk a little about guard Gabe Vincent who carried Nigeria to the win over USA with 21 points. He played in a lower conference with the University of California Santa Barbara (NCAA) and reached the NBA via the G-League. Could a huge Olympic games resurrect his NBA career?

He’s another guy that has worked extremely hard to get to where he is. He has always been an under the radar. I’m not in a position to know what could result from a huge Olympics, but in my opinion he has already shown that he belongs in the NBA.

There are many other very talented guys on the team that aren’t in the NBA. Is a guy like Caleb Agada a player to watch during the Olympics?

Definitely, as I mentioned before he has been one of the most impressive guys on the team. He’s a very aggressive scorer and is coming off a huge season in Israel. We’re all proud of his journey.

What exactly your role on the team? Is it different than what you had the last years with Herbalife Gran Canaria)?

I’ve been more of a defensive player, I play within the system and try to bring energy to the team. My role is smaller here, but that’s always been a sacrifice I’ve humbly made when playing for the national team.

What has it been like playing for head coach Mike Brown? What has been his biggest weapon as a coach in guiding Nigeria in the early going?

It’s been a great experience so far. I’ve spoken with him for over a year before actually meeting him in person. He’s a great coach, but before that a great man. He is very passionate about Nigerian basketball and furthering the program. I think his biggest weapon has been pulling us together to play within a free flowing system that suits everyone. He’s very big on how intense our defense must be as well, and I think that will be the backbone of this team.

Let’s look at your group B. I seriously think that this could be the toughest group with Australia, Germany and Italy. Is it correct to say that there is no heavy favorite in this group?

Yeah that’s correct. All of those teams are full of very experienced players who have played with each other for many years. It will be an extremely competitive group.

Germany has been playing very well minus Dennis Schroeder and other NBA players. How dangerous do you see Germany being in this group?

With respect to each team, I see every one very capable of advancing. Germany is definitely in a good moment and will be even better when those guys suit up.

What are you looking forward to seeing most at the Olympic Games? Is There a certain athlete that you would love to meet if you had the chance to in Japan?

If I am blessed enough to make the final 12 and reach the Olympic Games I would love to see a variety of sports. There isn’t one specific athlete that I would love to meet, but I hope to be able to watch some track and field events, swimming, and gymnastics.

Did you see the sequel to Coming To America? Shouldn’t they just have left it alone?

Haha! I did. I think they probably should have left it alone, because of the huge gap in time. It’s always hard to follow up a classic movie like that with a sequel. But, I guess I can say that I was pretty entertained.

Thanks Stan for the chat.

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