“This is a part of Mexico that I’d never even imagined,” said the former No. 3 pick of the 2015 NBA draft as we sat on the sidelines of an Olympic training gymnasium just outside of the upscale Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City. The Celtics Wire made the trip to see the Mexican metropolis’ G League team practice as a member of the Capitanes, the NBA’s only development league affiliate based outside the US or Canada.
The event was a first for the organization since relocating back to the country it calls home, having played the season prior — its first in the G League — in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. Speaking with us was said 2015 No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor, who had signed with the team for their 2022-23 campaign with the hopes of finding his way back to the NBA.
“The one obvious goal is to make it back to the NBA,” explained Okafor. “But while I’m here, I’m trying to get better each and every day.”
Keen on the recent resurgence of big men in the league, the Nigerian-American center is one of many who have turned to the G League as a means of revitalizing careers that have hit roadblocks.
Having come into the league just as the tendency for teams to play small took hold, the Duke alumnus was hopeful the shift back towards larger frontlines might open up a path back to the NBA for him.
“It’s definitely good to see,’ he explained. “The last four or five years, there’s been a lot of small ball, and that hurt me in a way, so that’s exciting to see. I hope it does help me out and get me back (to the league).
As to whether he might be a good fit for the Boston Celtics, Okafor was open to the possibility in light of the jury being out on whether they have enough reliable big man depth to weather Robert Williams III’s absence.
“That would be my goal to play for one of the best organizations,” he related.
“Whatever way the coach would want me to be. If he wanted me to be rolling to the rim hard — which is probably what they want their bigs to do because they have so many guys who are capable of scoring — that’d probably be my best role.”
“Getting guys open, rolling to the rim hard, and rebounding,” he added.
And while his earliest experiences in Boston did not go so well with the fans, even clashing famously with several after his second trip to the city with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Chicago native holds no grudges.
“They are passionate about their team,” he said, recalling the kerfuffle. “I went to Duke University, so I get the fans being passionate — I also played in Philadelphia.”
Okafor shares not only his status as a Blue Devil alumnus with Celtics superstar forward Jayson Tatum but also a friendship going back years.
“I love Jayson, and I’ve known him for a while,” recounted the former Sixer. “I’m very proud of him — it’s also really inspiring to see how well he’s done.
Good enough to be in the running for 2023’s Kia Most Valuable Player award? “A very good chance to win MVP,” related Okafor.
While the chances of the Capitanes big man ends up in Boston to reunite with his old Duke friend may be slim simply by the vicissitudes faced by any NBA franchise, he will be well-positioned to break back into the league with his new team.
And as far as doing it in the Mexican capital of 22 million souls? One could certainly find plenty of other cities in the G League with less allure to do it in, as Okafor himself acknowledged. “Everything I’m seeing is so surprising,” he said. “It’s beautiful here.”
With (a few) Celtics fans in the stands and high-level basketball being played on the court, how could it not be?
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Story originally appeared on Celtics Wire