Jahlil Okafor is trying to start fresh in New Orleans (which is why his sprained ankle was so disappointing). He missed most of last season due to injury, getting just some spot minutes for the Sixers and Nets, this was a new chance for a team looking for another big man to be part of the rotation.
It wasn’t just physically Okafor had to get right, it was mentally too. He posted on Instagram about he had learned to “identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety.” This week, he opened up to Shams Charania of The Athletic about how deep that went.
“I didn’t know I was dealing with depression and anxiety myself,” Okafor told The Athletic. “When I was in Brooklyn after the Philly trade, I started to talk to somebody there. That was the first I heard about it. Then, during the season, I didn’t act on it.
“I was in a dark place, man. I didn’t act on what was told to me, and I ignored it and shut it down.”
“A week before the season ended, I looked at myself in the mirror and knew I not only had to get my body right but my mind right,” Okafor said. “I went straight to Miami and changed my diet and worked out. But most importantly, I started talking to a therapist to help me get through the depression and anxiety that I was going through, and it’s something I’m still dealing with. But I’m coping with it a lot better, and I’m learning ways to continue to feel good…
“I lost my mom when I was 9, and it goes way deeper than me playing the game of basketball. It’s my life. It’s my trials. I wouldn’t blame Philly, wouldn’t blame the media or anybody.”
The hope is that Okafor speaking about his battles — as Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, and others have as well — will remove some of the stigma tied to mental illness and make some people feel more comfortable about seeking the help they need.
Okafor has a clean slate in New Orleans. There are bench minutes available behind Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, and Julius Randle, and Okafor showed some promise in camp until the ankle injury. If he can play the up-tempo style the Pelicans run and fit his below the rim offensive game into it — plus play some solid defense — he could have a role there.
That’s a lot of ifs, but Okafor seems better prepared to deal with them now.