On June 25, 2015, D’Angelo Russell was drafted No. 2 overall by the Lakers and Jahlil Okafor went No. 3 to the 76ers. After two seasons of turmoil and criticism with those teams, Okafor and Russell suddenly find themselves joined at the hip while trying to get their careers back on track with the Nets, who traded for Russell last June and acquired Okafor last Thursday.
Asked on Monday at his introductory news conference if he ever imagined playing with Russell, Okafor brightened and said, “I thought about it a ton. I’ve been playing with D’Angelo a while. We grew up playing against each other — same high school class, same draft class. He’s actually the first person to call me when I got traded.
“We’re just very excited to get on the court together. He has to get healthy [after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Nov. 17] and I have to get acclimated to the team, but it’s hard not to think about it. I’m excited and I know he’s excited . . . I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”
Okafor said he’s also close with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson from their time together with USA Basketball, and of course, he’s very familiar with Nik Stauskas, who came with him from the 76ers as part of the deal. Stauskas will be reunited with Caris LeVert, who was his college roommate at Michigan.
“We’re very close,” Stauskas said of LeVert. “We were roommates for two full years. We spent a lot of time together on and off the court, too. Having someone that I’m comfortable with and that I’ve been friends with for a while, it’s always good. On the court, I feel we have chemistry from past years, so hopefully we can continue that.”