During Monday’s NBA media day, two of the Magic’s more tenured players Mo Bamba and Chuma Okeke offered insight on their new identities, Orlando’s versatile roster and becoming veteran presences in the locker room.
Before any basketball-related comments, Okeke’s media session began with him speaking on how he spent the summer connecting with his African ancestry (Chuma’s father Chuka is Nigerian), informing the public that his last name is pronounced ‘O-kay-kay,’ not ‘O-key-key.’
“I’ve been hearing that a lot since I was young since I played with a lot of Nigerians on my AAU team. But I was young so I was like, ‘man my name is O-key-key,’ this is the way I’m used to saying it, but it’s pronounced O-kay-kay” Okeke said.
The surname ‘Okeke’ is of Igbo origin, one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, and means “man or boy born on Eke day.” In Igbo culture, there are four days in a week; namely, Nkwo, Eke, Afo and Orie.
As for Bamba, shaping his new identity was a little less cultural. The fifth-year big man changed his number to 11 this summer after donning the number five the past four seasons.
“I got drafted and they asked me what number I wanted, and Bismack [Biyombo] was still on the roster. . .10 minutes later they traded him and I was stuck with five because they put it into production. I tried to change it the next year and they’re like, ‘oh yeah you got to pay this amount of money’ and I was just like, ‘I think I’m all right.’ Five has been a good number, but it just wasn’t me” Bamba said.
While ‘10 minutes’ may be an exaggeration, as Bamba was drafted on June 21, 2018 and Biyombo was traded to Charlotte on July 7, 2018, Bamba changing his number could be symbolic for him and the team.
This past season, Bamba averaged career-highs in all five major statistical categories while starting 69 games for the Magic. But the former lottery pick said he’s ready to start competing for the playoffs, even if that means his personal production takes a hit.
“As far as personal career-highs and all that stuff, that’s cool, but I think now is the time to turn a new leaf and start getting some wins” Bamba said.
Much has been made this summer about Orlando’s “position-less” roster, and Okeke spoke on his eagerness for the start of the 2022-23 season because of this reason.
“I’m actually very excited for this year. I feel like we got a good group and we’re very versatile in all positions honestly. I’m really excited to see how the season goes and see how we all fit and play together, but I feel like it’ll turn out good” Okeke said.
Simultaneously, Bamba mentioned that accountability will be an emphasis during year two of the Jamahl Mosley era.
“Last year was simple, it was pretty obvious we could play through our mistakes. This year we have so much depth and so many people who are hungry to get out there and play. So we want to hold each other accountable, even in practice, just to make each other better” Bamba said.
And despite Bamba and Okeke both only being 24-years-old, the two players touched on the importance of becoming vocal leaders this coming season.
“As far as being a vet, my word will probably hold a lot of weight, being that I’ve been here for awhile. So just taking that stance on the court, speaking up and talking when I need to talk but not talking too much at the same time” Okeke said.
Okeke may not have taken the leap Magic fans expected last season, as his three-point percentage dropped from 34.8% to 31.8%. But the 2022-23 campaign could be huge for the third-year forward, especially if the early returns from training camp are any indiction of how he will perform.
As for Bamba, he said, “I think that’s something the coaches lean on me for. Getting out there and leading by example speaks louder than words, but also showing the rooks like, ‘here’s a mistake I’ve made and you should look at it this way instead of that way,’ which is something I was taught that I want to do.”
It seems Bamba and Okeke are entering the new year with a boatload of confidence. Whether that stems from their newfound identities or their belief in the team’s potential, the conviction those two showcased Monday should do wonders for the Magic’s morale this season.