In an interview with Shams Charania of The Athletic, Jahlil Okafor admits that after his trade from Philly to Brooklyn last December, a Nets staffer (who neither identify) suggested that he had been dealing with depression and anxiety. The 22-year-old admitted that he didn’t deal with the diagnosis until after the season.
Now with New Orleans, Okafor described how the staffer surprised him with the description of his mental state.
“I didn’t know I was dealing with depression and anxiety myself,” Okafor told The Athletic. “When I was in Brooklyn after the Philly trade, I started to talk to somebody there. That was the first I heard about it. Then, during the season, I didn’t act on it.
“I was in a dark place, man. I didn’t act on what was told to me, and I ignored it and shut it down.”
(Although the staffer is unidentified, the Nets have relied heavily on a New Jersey-based sports psychologist, Paul Groenewal, in recent years.)
It wasn’t until near the end of the season that Okafor hit bottom and realized he needed to change things, Charania writes.
“A week before the season ended, I looked at myself in the mirror and knew I not only had to get my body right but my mind right,” Okafor told Charania. “I went straight to Miami and changed my diet and worked out. But most importantly, I started talking to a therapist to help me get through the depression and anxiety that I was going through, and it’s something I’m still dealing with. But I’m coping with it a lot better, and I’m learning ways to continue to feel good.”
According to Charania, Okafor was quickly out of the Nets plans. He, Nik Stauskas and the Knicks 2019 second round pick went to Brooklyn in return for Trevor Booker. Stauskas is now in Portland and Booker is currently without a job in basketball, having just left Shanxi in the Chinese league. The Nets retain the Knicks pick, their only second rounder in this year’s draft.
With the season over, Okafor headed to Miami for both physical and mental upgrades. He admits there were issues with his work ethic and a resistance to change. Now, after signing with New Orleans, he feels he can turn things around.
“I wanted to be a part of this team, this winning program. It was a perfect fit for me, and I couldn’t be happier that I’m here,” he told Charania. “The amount of excitement that I have being here in New Orleans and being with this organization, being with a winning organization. We talk about winning a championship, competing for a championship, and hearing those words in training camp is new for me.
“My entire basketball career, I’ve been a winner. I can’t wait to win again.”