Josh Okogie was taking a nap in his dorm room at Georgia Tech two years ago when he was awakened by a loud noise coming from Bobby Dodd Stadium.
It was March. Okogie knew that football season was over. He wondered what was going on.
Then he saw people wearing Atlanta United gear as they left the stadium. It was the team’s first-ever game.
“This soccer thing is going up in the city,”Okogie remembers thinking. “I’ve been following them since.”
Okogie, who just completed his first season in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves, toured Atlanta United’s training ground Tuesday as a show of his support for the team. He will attend his first home game when the Five Stripes host Orlando on May 12.
On Tuesday, he received a customized primary jersey and scarf and took a few penalty kicks against his best friend. Okogie, who said he grew up playing soccer, may want to stick to professional basketball.
“I’m a natural,” he joked.
Okogie said he grew up with soccer because his father and older brothers played the sport. He is a fan of Barcelona because of Ronaldinho, as well as the team being the one he would select when he tried to beat his older brother at the FIFA video game.
“I’ve been around that environment most of my life,” he said.
Okogie had thoughts about the similarities in the sports, as well as what would happen to soccer in the U.S. if the athletes that choose football and basketball instead devoted themselves to soccer.
He said the one skill that good soccer players and basketball players share is the ability to control and change their speed. He said players that go the same speed all the time are easier to defend than those that are less predictable.
He said that because the sport’s history in the U.S. isn’t as deep or fervent as it is in other countries, it will be a while before the national team can become a power, even if more athletes decided to start playing soccer.
Okogie, who averaged 16.9 points in two seasons at Tech, had a solid first season with the Timberwolves with averages of 7.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. The first-round pick may be most remembered for blocking James Harden’s jump shot in a game in February.
“I just thought it was a block,” he said. “I’ve blocked a lot of jump shots. It wasn’t until after the game that I saw the Internet blowing up. I made more plays, but it’s definitely the most talked about.”