We no longer have Jared, and now we no longer have Chuma.
Auburn’s top pro prospect announced earlier today that he was going to hire an agent and enter the NBA Draft process. Chuma Okeke will forego his final two seasons of eligibility after a March that shot him up the draft boards.
Over the season, Okeke averaged 12.0 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Tigers, but it was the stretch run that earned him the highest praise. Starting with the win over Georgia at the end of February, where he hit the game-winning three to kickstart Auburn’s late-season winning streak, Okeke averaged over 14 points per game and dominated in some of the biggest games of the year. Against Tennessee to finish the regular season, he scored 22 points and out-dueled Grant Williams as the Tigers got their first win over a top-five team in 24 years. Then, he did a similar number against the Vols in the SEC Championship, ringing up 18 more points and hitting 5-9 threes in Auburn’s blowout win.
As the NCAA Tournament started, Chuma was unstoppable, and he showed off against the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in the Sweet Sixteen, scoring 20 points and grabbing 11 rebounds before sustaining a torn ACL in the second half. Auburn beat Kentucky to advance to the school’s first Final Four, but fell by a single point to eventual national champion Virginia. It’s not a stretch to say that if Chuma Okeke remains healthy, then Auburn easily wins a national championship.
As for what he brings to the NBA, he’s the total package. Standing at just 6’8, he still led the Tigers in rebounding, often grabbing tough boards on both ends of the floor. He also became the most reliable scorer, able to hit from the perimeter with regularity (39% from three), and his inside game showed a wily skillset with surprising grace and power. He had the defensive handles to guard any position from guard to center, and he was adept at grabbing skills. Basically, Chuma didn’t know the breadth of his own power, and he was an explosion of skill waiting to happen. It finally did in the NCAA Tournament and helped the Tigers get to the Elite Eight.
Now, Okeke’s declaration doesn’t mean that he’s going to leave for sure. He’s still free to return to school if he doesn’t like the info he gets from the draft process. As of now, he’s a fringe first-round pick. Even though he’s hired an agent, if he’s unable to give scouts and teams a definitive feeling that his ACL will heal enough that he becomes the player they saw in March, then he would be free to return to school. We’ll have to wait and see what kind of an evaluation he gets, and what kind of decision he’ll make once he receives that information.
Obviously, we’re hoping that he returns to school for the 2019-2020 season. A Chuma at the height of his powers (even though he might not be able to play until November or December at the earliest) would give Auburn a huge boost with a roster that’s already going to be looking for some upperclassman leadership. However, we want him to make the best decision, and wish him the best in any fashion.