Chuma Okeke’s dream is coming true in Orlando.
The former Auburn power forward was selected by the Magic at 16th overall on Thursday night in the NBA Draft.
Okeke is the first player drafted out of Auburn since 2001. Jamison Brewer was selected out of Auburn in 2001 after Chris Porter and Mamadou N’Diaye were picked in 2000.
Okeke celebrated being drafted Thursday night with dozens of friends and family, all cheering and erupting in joy as he flashed a familiar, shy smile sitting in the back of the room, as seen in a video shared by his brother on Twitter.
Okeke will be remembered as an Auburn legend who helped guide the Tigers’ men’s basketball program, on and off the floor, to its first Final Four. Okeke averaged 12 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
His quiet personality often gave way to Auburn’s flashy veterans who were a bit more comfortable in the spotlight. When Auburn went through its magic run in March Madness and charged into the likes of bluebloods Kansas and North Carolina, Okeke was a crucial weapon.
“You gave us courage all year long,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said to him in the locker room after Auburn’s Sweet Sixteen win over North Carolina, in a moment released in a video then on the team’s social media pages.
“We’d be out there playing, and no matter who we’re playing, they’re like, ‘You know, they’ve got this’ — We’ve got Chuma. We’ve got Chuma Okeke,” he said. He started there, before naming any of the other pieces critical to Auburn’s history-making run.
That was after the game against North Carolina, the night Okeke played to his potential once again to score 20 points and pulling in 11 rebounds in 25 minutes before he fell to the court and later underwent surgery on a torn ACL.
“You were the best player on the floor tonight, son,” Pearl said to him on that video.
Later that weekend in the Elite Eight, Okeke was there, reaching up from his wheelchair to grab a coveted regional championship trophy, when the Tigers earned the biggest win in program history with a win against SEC rival Kentucky that lifted Auburn to its first Final Four.
Okeke was watching the start of the game from the team hotel, in too much pain to get to the arena, before he decided watching then that he needed to be in the arena instead. He and his family loaded up and made the trip, and he wheeled out onto the court behind the Auburn bench in the second half in a storybook moment that set the stage for Auburn’s fairytale win.
Okeke signed with Auburn out of Westlake High School in Atlanta as a touted prospect. At Auburn, he charged up to that vast potential at key moments throughout the season during Auburn’s wild run — and showed enough to be picked Thursday even as he recovers from injury.
Okeke underwent successful surgery with orthopaedic surgeon James Andrews on April 2.