The Washington Wizards have their home opener at the Verizon Center tomorrow against the Boston Celtics, and following a season starting loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team will be looking to see key players, including newcomer Emeka Okafor, to step up their game. The 6 foot 10 veteran power forward/center, traded to the Wizards from the New Orleans Hornets, will be looked to this season for his defensive-minded play and rebounding abilities, in addition to providing some veteran stability to a young team still trying to find its tempo. Okafor took some time out from pre-season earlier this month to chat with us on his big expectations for the team, including playoffs, and where he likes to take the wife for dinner in DC.
AB: What were your first thoughts on being traded and how has the transition been going for you in Washington?
EO: I was initially intrigued when I was told I was being traded to DC. It’s an interesting opportunity and the first major market city I will be playing in, so I was fine with it. Everyone is cool, the players all get along great and the coaching staff is phenomenal. Everyone is all about getting better.
AB: What is your role on the Wizards looking to be?
EO: As a veteran, with a young team, seeing them make the same mistake I did when I was their age, my role will be to help the learning process. There’s myself and four other veterans so it’s a pretty young team and I’m ready to take on a leadership role.
AB: How is the team looking this year?
EO: Right now we have some injuries and some guys that play some significant minutes aren’t playing right now, (point guard John Wall is out with a stress injury to his knee cap, center Nene is out with plantar fascitis) so we just have to find a way to win. But that said, we are moving in the right direction. Players that would normally have not seen too much time are getting experience and building confidence and that helps us build a deeper bench.
AB: So we talking playoffs ...finally?
EO: I believe that this team can make the playoffs. It’s a reliable goal for us and that’s what we are aiming for.
AB: Where is your favorite place to go out to eat around the DC area?
EO: Right now Jaleo and Oyamel are mine and my wife’s favorites. We were looking for a place to eat and my wife heard both were good, so we stopped by each on different occasions and everything was eaten off the plates.
AB: Obviously you’re in the nation’s capital and people around here love to talk politics. Have you found yourself getting into any political discussions or do you stay out of it?
EO: My preseason schedule had me out of DC quite a bit, so I haven’t really been too involved. I did attend an Obama fundraiser before training recently though.
AB: You’re a big guy, so how big is your TV at the house?
EO: (Laughing) Sorry to disappoint but 42’ TV here.
AB: Do you have RGIII fever?
EO: I respect the guy. He’s doing a great job and I’m rooting for him. But right now I’m looking forward to the Celtics and to getting the ball rolling in DC.
Washington Wizards will take on the Boston Celtics at the Verizon Center, Saturday Nov.3 at 7 PM. Tickets are still available online at ticketmaster.com, stubhub.com. For more info go to www.washingtonwizards.com