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Jahlil Okafor recalls life-enhancing lesson learned as a Net

Jahlil Okafor #8 of the New Orleans Pelicans

Jahlil Okafor #8 of the New Orleans Pelicans warms up during the first half against the Sacramento Kings at the Smoothie King Center on October 19, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Credit: Getty Images/Jonathan Bachman

NEW ORLEANS — Jahlil Okafor’s Nets career lasted barely four months after they traded for him last December, and it was frustrating for him to appear in only 26 games after being relegated to an end-of-the-bench role. But when Okafor looks back on his time with the Nets, he might regard it as a turning point not only because of the friends he made but because of the advice he received to deal with his mental health issues.

Okafor, who now is in a backup role with the Pelicans, at first ignored the advice of Nets psychologist Dr. Paul Groenewal to seek counseling. “I deal with anxiety,” Okafor said before the Pelicans played the Nets Friday night at Smoothie King Center.

“When I first heard about it, I pushed it to the side because I had never heard about it and my family never talks about it. When they first brought it to me, I thought it was b.s. I finally read about it, and I heard [Cavs star] Kevin Love talk about it in an article [and] I thought, ‘Wow, that’s something I deal with.’ I’m happy that I did it. I wish I would have done it sooner. But I’m 22 and still learning.”

Addressing his personal issues not only has helped Okafor put his work-related troubles in perspective, but he said it also has helped him strive to become a better person off the court. “Realizing there’s a lot of pressure on me and accepting that for what it is and realizing I might need somebody to talk to, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Okafor said.

“And it goes farther than just basketball. There’s stuff off the court, dealing with family, the stuff I dealt with growing up. All of that came out when I started talking to somebody. It felt good to get it off my chest. It’s been very beneficial for me.”

Okafor said he still maintains close ties to former Net Quincy Acy as well as current members of the team, including D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Joe Harris.

“Those guys were all great to me,” Okafor said. “I miss seeing them every day, but they’re doing well and I’m rooting for those guys for sure.”

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