By Matthew Fairburn
Plenty of kids grow up dreaming of playing professional basketball, but Alex Oriakhi always believed it would happen.
A 6-foot-9-inch forward, who grew up in Lowell, Mass., Oriakhi always stood out to coaches because of how he carried himself.
Alex had a professional approach to basketball, his studies and his social life as a junior in high school,” said Mark O’Neil, who coached Oriakhi at the Tilton School in New Hampshire. “The guy always believed he would be a professional basketball player.”
Oriakhi was chosen by the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the NBA Draft on Thursday night, the 57th pick overall.
Oriakhi has made his mark in basketball through hard work and a willingness to rebound. From his time playing for Leo Papile and the Boston Amateur Basketball Club to his four year college career, which started with three seasons and a National Championship at the University of Connecticut and finished with a transfer to Missouri for his senior season, Oriakhi has been the type of player that Papile says a general manager won’t want to cut.
Papile says that while rebounding and hustle aren’t always fashionable in college basketball, NBA general managers take notice.
“They go unheralded, but not to their teams, and not on their paychecks and not on their ring fingers,” Papile said.
Papile compared Oriakhi to current Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who was won three NBA Championships since going undrafted in 2003. Oriakhi knows his path to NBA success isn’t going to be as easy as some of his peers, but he’s once again taking the right approach.
“It’s more important to get drafted in the right situation,” Oriakhi said. “If I’m picked in the second round, I’d rather be the right fit for the team and help them win than go first round and go in the D-League and don’t get a lot of playing time.”
Oriakhi constantly reminded himself during the pre-draft process that it only takes one team to like him. In the months leading up to the draft, Oriakhi trained in California in between workouts for numerous NBA teams.
“I was really excited to hear my named called tonight and it’s an honor to have a chance to play and compete for the Phoenix Suns,” Oriakhi said. “Phoenix is a great organization.
Despite the work he’s put in to get to this point, Oriakhi knows the hardest work lies ahead.
“It’s not about just making it to the NBA, you have to stay in the NBA,” Oriakhi said. “Even if you get drafted in the first round, what are you going to do next? You going to be satisfied?”
Oriakhi is proud of the work he’s put in, but he may have even more pride in his fellow BABC alumni that have also made their dreams a reality. Nerlens Noel (No. 6 overall, traded to the 76ers), Michael-Carter Williams (No. 11 choice of the 76ers) and undrafted Phil Pressey, who was the driving force behind Oriakhi’s transfer to Missouri, all came through Massachusetts and will be playing professionally next season.
“I know a lot of guys have been in the NBA from Massachusetts but haven’t been able to stick,” Oriakhi said. “For the four of us to do it would be special. It’s not about just making it to the NBA, you have to stay in the NBA.”