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Jahlil Okafor: Excited and ready for his return to play

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Jahlil Okafor wanted back on the court in Philly. It didn’t happen. He wants back on the court in Brooklyn. It will happen Wednesday vs. Minnesota. The difference is the plan ... or lack of same.

Everyone is trying to downplay what will happen when Okafor takes the floor for the Nets. But it’s not just a game. It’s a story, a bit of a drama. Can a player who was once seen as great prospect ... and justified that as a rookie, then was relegated to the deep bench, redeem himself with a new team and in the process justify the hopes his new organization and fanbase have for him?

“I’m pretty confident, just talking with the guys in the locker room, and it’s all been positive feedback with the coaches,” Okafor said Tuesday when asked about Wednesday. He feels comfortable.

“D’Angelo (Angelo) is somebody I talk with often and he loves it here. He had nothing but positive things to say to me even before I stepped foot into the facility, and everything he said is true. They really care about us, the player development has been amazing and just even off the floor it’s been a good time.”

The Nets traded for Okafor while they were on their Mexico City trip, then played him in a blowout loss with mixed results a few days later. He played 23 minutes, scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds, but at the end looked gassed. Moreover, he was in new offense that he admits was a bit of a revelation.

“The defense is similar. … The offense was something that was all new to me, completely different offense, completely different pace,” said Okafor, who doesn’t anticipate an overnight success in the motion offense ... particularly when centers are encouraged to become stretch-5’s.

“It’s only been two weeks, so I don’t want to sit there and say I’ve developed an amazing 3-point shot. That’s something we’ve been working on. But in the end of the day, I know what I do; I know what I’m able to do to help this team, and that’s not going to be me shooting 3s.”

He will be posting up and he will be facing up, a part of his game the Nets are reportedly intrigued with. Kenny Atkinson has hinted he can see (barely) 22-year-old Okafor and 19-year-old Jarrett Allen playing together.

In Philly, Okafor was seen as too much old school, too much post-up, but the Nets wanted to see how they could mold him into their system, their culture. After all, it was only two years ago that he averaged 17 and 7 for the 76ers as a 19-year-old and it was only three years ago that he led Duke to the NCAA championship and was ACC Player of the Year. Mike Krzyzewski predicted he would be “a franchise player, a franchise person.”

Now, of course, the expectations are more limited. But both Atkinson and he believe that if hard work equals success, he’ll be fine.

“He’s been doing a phenomenal job of getting ready physically with our assistant coaches. Collectively, we feel like he’s ready to get some minutes,” Atkinson said.

“I’ve been working extremely hard,” said Okafor. “Now that I’m playing on Wednesday, I’m very excited.”

Wednesday will be the first audition for Okafor and his new game. Not long after, it will be a reunion between Okafor and Russell. Should be fun.