When former Georgia Tech assistant coach Chad Dollar scouted Josh Okogie for the first time during his junior season at Shiloh High, it didn’t take him long to realize what he was seeing.
“I knew right away that he was definitely a high-major prospect,” said Dollar, now an assistant coach at Auburn. “I knew that right away after watching him play that one time. That’s when we started the recruiting process right then and just started recruiting him as hard as we could.”
Dollar saw in Okogie a versatile player who could drive and shoot from the perimeter and, moreover, someone with humility and the academic credentials to make it at Tech. But, speaking Thursday, he acknowledged that even he didn’t see this coming — three ACC rookie of the week honors, averaging 15.6 points and becoming the third Tech freshman to bag two 30-point games. (Tech legends Mark Price and Kenny Anderson are the others.)
“I was looking for someone to replace Marcus Hunt, so I knew he’d be able to come in right away and play, but, absolutely, you think a kid’s going to be really good and he’s special, but to put up the numbers he’s put up so far, that has been great,” Dollar said.
Dollar watched with delight Wednesday when Okogie torched No. 6 Florida State for 35 points on 10-for-17 shooting with career highs in rebounds (14) and assists (five) in leading the Jackets to a 78-56 win over the Seminoles at McCamish Pavilion, the latest chapter in the story of Tech’s surprising season.
“He’s the real deal,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He’s a very good player. He maintains his poise, he doesn’t get rattled, he’s extremely confident, athletic. He’s a guy that I think you’re going to enjoy watching for a long time.”
It’s high praise for a player who was rated a three-star prospect and was not rated among the state’s top 19 prospects in last year’s senior class by ESPN. Okogie chose Tech over Clemson, Tennessee and Kansas State, hardly the offer sheet typical of a player who is making a run at becoming the Jackets’ first ACC rookie of the year since Derrick Favors in 2010.
How did so many miss on Okogie? As Dollar and Kim Rivers, Okogie’s high-school coach, told it Thursday, it sounds fairly simple. While Okogie was skilled enough to be named player of the year in talent-rich Gwinnett County as a junior, he played his AAU ball with the Southern Stampede and had difficulty getting noticed with that team, a problem when so much of player evaluation is done on the AAU circuit. With such little notoriety, Rivers said he had to beg Dollar to come watch a player who was only fielding mid-major offers as a junior.
For the critical summer between his junior and senior years, Okogie switched to the high-profile Team CP3. However, that team had two of the biggest prospects in the country, Miller Grove High’s Alterique Gilbert and Harry Giles of Winston-Salem, N.C., now at Connecticut and Duke, respectively.
“He definitely got overlooked on the CP3 team,” Rivers said.
Selfishly, now knowing Okogie’s potential, Dollar had no problem with that.
“I was nervous … to be honest with you, because he was getting exposure, and he’d have a good game here and there,” he said.
Okogie signed with Tech in November 2015, just before the start of what would be coach Brian Gregory’s final season. Okogie wasn’t sure about Tech, showing strong interest in Tennessee, but Rivers saw a good match with Tech, which offered the ACC and a valuable degree.
After Gregory was fired and Josh Pastner was hired, Pastner made the trip to Gwinnett to persuade Okogie to stay, although Rivers said that Pastner was initially unaware of what he had.
“They thought Josh was just going to be an energy player, and as soon as that happened, I said, ‘Hold up. You don’t realize what you’re getting,’” Rivers said. “I told (Pastner), ‘This kid is special.’”
Okogie went to Tech shortly after to work out, Rivers said.
“And then coach Pastner called me up and was like, ‘Oh, you were right. I understand,’” Rivers said.
Pastner and the Jackets are the fortunate recipients of this burgeoning talent. On Wednesday night, he gave thanks, crediting Gregory and his staff for recognizing Okogie and signing him and his staff for developing him since he came to campus last summer.
“And then all the credit obviously goes to Josh for his improvement, his willingness to work, just the highest level of character of a young man integrity,” Pastner said. “He’s just a winner.”
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