Wolves’ Okogie has ‘go-to dunks’ ready for Rising Stars Challenge

CHARLOTTE — Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Josh Okogie is exciting to watch on both sides of the ball, so it’s no surprise he got an invite to participate in the 2019 Rising Stars Challenge.

Representing his Nigerian roots, Okogie will be a member of the Team World roster in Friday night’s game. Having grown up and attended college in Georgia, Okogie will also have a homecoming of sorts with 20-plus members of his family attending the event.

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“My hometown Sneville, Georgia is about five hours from here, so a lot of my family is coming,” Okogie said hours before the event. “To be able to represent my family, my country, my friends … it’s a blessing. I’ve actually been going to meetings to discuss how I can get acclimated with Nigeria and how to represent them better, in terms of playing basketball. A lot of things are yet to come.”

Now over halfway through his first NBA season, Okogie is averaging 7.6 points and 0.98 steals (which ranks fifth amongst all rookies) in just 22.7 minutes per game this season.

But his favorite part of playing the game? Well, it turns out that Okogie has had a love for dunking since the very beginning of his basketball journey. And he remembers when it started, with his first dunk, Nov. 18, 2011.

“We had like a pep rally in eighth grade, and we were doing like a three-man weave or something … I didn’t even do the weave, I just dribbled down the middle and thought ‘I think I can dunk it,’ and I just tried and I dunked it,” said Okogie, smiling as he recalled his first dunk. “I tried to do it again, but I couldn’t do it for the next couple of weeks. It’s something I just love, to jump and dunk.”

The Rising Stars Challenge traditionally isn’t exactly known for being a defensive game, so be on the lookout for Okogie to get multiple opportunities to show off his explosive dunking abilities.

“I’m going to just play it by ear,” Okogie said about what dunks we may see him do in the Rising Star game. “I got a lot of go-to dunks that I know if I have a fastbreak that they’ll go in … I’m just going to do whatever one I feel is the right one at the moment.”

Okogie is coming off one of his most remarkable performances this season, in which he had the tough assignment to guard reigning MVP James Harden, who is on a scoring tirade, having scored 30 or more points 31 games. Okogie had a key block on Harden in the closing minutes of the third quarter. The Timberwolves would beat the Rockets 121-111.

“It was cool, definitely a player like that (Harden) who’s one of the best offensive forces in the league right now, and to be able to get a block down the stretch in a two or three-point game it was big,” Okogie said.

Pesky defense and dunking might be Okogie’s favorite part while actually playing the game and for what he’s quickly became known, but he ranks being a part of the Timberwolves roster above all else.

“The highlight of my season … definitely being around my teammates,” Okogie said. “A lot of my teammates I grew up watching on TV, and growing up dreaming about being like them and now I’m on a team with them and learning from them. I think that’s great.”