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June 24, 2004 -- It's Draft Day and the National Player of the Year, National Champion Connecticut's best player, could go first. Sound familiar? If UConn's Emeka Okafor is the first player chosen in the 2004 NBA Draft, it will mark the first time that the top picks in the WNBA and NBA come from the same university. The Phoenix Mercury selected guard Diana Taurasi with the first pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft.
Thus far, Taurasi has lived up to the billing. She is currently fifth in the WNBA in points per game (18.2) and is tops in the WNBA in 3-pointers with 25. And if the pattern stayed true to form, Okafor would also make a splash in his NBA rookie campaign. After all, the two are friends and boast eerily similar accomplishment throughout their intertwined basketball careers. Taurasi, for one, is confident that the two will make history.
Taurasi was the No. 1 overall pick in April|
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)
Q. What about Emeka’s game will make him a good NBA player? How good do you think he will be?
A: “I think Emeka will be a great NBA player because of his work ethic. My four years at school he was there for three, and I never saw anyone in the gym as much as he was working on his game every year, improving on what people thought he couldn’t do. I think that’s why he was successful. I think he’s going to be a twelve-year NBA player, and help whatever team he goes to defensively. You can’t teach that, the way he can time blocked shots and change the game with his defense. I think he’ll be a great player.”
Q. What kind of relationship did you have in school and how often do you talk now and compare experiences?
A: “We pretty much talked daily. We’d always see each other in the gym, weight room, shooting. I think we got close when we went to Jordan camp, and we were both counselors there. We hung out, and we talked. We always shared experiences of how to overcome things that you might not think are important, but, you know, being in the situation that we were in the spotlight, we had a lot of things that were similar, and we helped each other out.”
Q. Going into the Draft, how confident were you that you’d be taken first? Do you feel you deserved the attention?
“People had been telling me that I was going to be the first pick, so I knew I was going to be the first pick. As far as the deserved attention goes, I don’t know. I think so, but I just control playing. I can’t control outside people.”
Q. How great was it to experience something like the Draft with your parents, your sister and all of your teammates there with you?
A: “Being at the draft with my parents and my family was the ultimate compliment because it is as exciting for me as it is for them. They’ve been there every step of the way.”
Q. Now that you have some experience under your belt, do you have any advice for Emeka about coming into a new situation with a lot of pressure?
A: “I really don’t have much advice for Emeka. He’s well grounded, mature, a great person, so he knows what he’s going to have to do. If he ever needs any advice or has any questions, I’ll be there to answer them.”
Q. Who was more popular on campus this year? You or him?
A: (laughs) “If you ask him, he’d probably say me, but if you ask me, I’d say him! I think we both got equal share of limelight.”
Q. Who was the better student, you, or Emeka? And who was more fun to hang out with?
A: (laughs) “I would have to say Emeka was the better student. He definitely dedicated a lot of his time to be very successful in school. I’ll give him that. I’m definitely more fun to hang out with. We had common friends and everyone would probably agree that I’m more fun to hang out with…but nah, we’re really good friends.”
Q. Who will win a title at the next level first? You or Emeka?
A: “Who’s going to win the first championship? The Mercury! No doubt, the Mercury!”