COLUMBIA — There is a familiar looking name on the Western Illinois men's basketball roster. However, this Okafor is the third cousin of the former UConn standout and current New Orleans Hornets player.
“I talked to him a lot throughout high school, but we kind of lost touch,” Emeka Okafor Jr., said of his relative in the NBA. “He’s always there for me if I need to talk with him, but he’s a busy guy.”
Okafor Jr., who transferred to Western Illinois from Toledo during his freshman year in 2008 doesn’t score many points, but he puts a big body on the court for the Leathernecks at 6 feet, 7 inches and 210 pounds.
On Thursday night against Missouri, Okafor Jr., only had two points, but came up with six rebounds, the second most on the team. Those two points were, at the time, big for Western Illinois, putting the Leathernecks ahead 17-15 more than 10 minutes into the game. WIU kept the game close before the Tigers pulled away in the final minutes for a 66-61 victory.
“I thought we played really hard, and if a couple more things went our way, it would’ve been our game,” Okafor Jr. said. “Guys came out really focused and with lots of energy, but we just couldn’t close it out.”
Coming into Thursday night’s game, Okafor Jr., only had three points on the season. But it has been rebounds that he has been focusing on mostly this season.
“My role for the most part is to rebound, play good defense, and let the offense kind of get going,” Okafor Jr., said. “I come out there and give the team a little energy and spark.”
Western Illinois coach Jim Molinari agreed.
“He’s not going to score out on the floor, but the main thing he can give us is, like (Missouri junior forward Laurence) Bowers, he’s quick to the ball,” Molinari said. “He’s a wide body, and I wanted to get the ball inside to him more, but we weren’t able to do that tonight.”
Okafor Jr., said that while he admires his third cousin, the Hornets aren't his favorite in the NBA. His favorite is the Los Angeles Lakers since he’s an even bigger fan of Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
Okafor Jr., said he isn't counting on an NBA career like his cousin, but has a career goal of being either a dermatologist or orthopedic surgeon.
“(Emeka) just tells me to work hard, and the most important part is to get that degree in four years so you have something more to work with,” Okafor Jr. said.