WILMINGTON, N.C. -- No one can accuse Emeka Okafor of
spending the offseason lounging around on the couch and eating
mounds of ice cream. Especially if they caught even a fleeting
glimpse of him in the Charlotte Bobcats' training camp.
Okafor, last year's NBA rookie of the year, sought out the
tutelage of former league MVP Hakeem Olajuwon to improve his game
and took up yoga to improve his flexibility.
Despite working with weights primarily to improve and tone
target areas, the 6-foot-10 forward looks stronger and has bulked
up nearly 20 pounds since the end of last season.
"It's a new age," Okafor said Thursday, the third day of the
team's training camp at the University of North Carolina at
Wilmington. "The more we learn, the more we take care of our
bodies. The better you take care of your body, the longer you'll
play and the more efficient you'll be."
That kind of approach is a welcome sight for the Bobcats, who
have made Okafor the face of a franchise trying to make it in a
city jaded by a nasty split with its once-beloved Hornets three
years ago. He lived up to expectations by leading all rookies with
15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in the team's 18-64
inaugural season, and he doesn't sound content to stand pat.
"I still don't feel like I really deserve that yet," Okafor
said of seeing his face on billboards and team advertisements
around Charlotte. "It's a good honor, but I feel I can't rest on
that. I feel like I have to do more."
His impressive physique -- the result of a somewhat
unconventional workout plan -- proves that.
He credits much of his physical gains to yoga, which he began
because he hoped it would improve his flexibility. By the end of
the summer, he was practicing it three times a week.
"I didn't know it was that beneficial until I actually tried
it," he said. "After the first session, I felt pretty good. After
the first two weeks, you just feel great. Afterward, you just feel
"When I have my yoga session, I'll bust out my mat, go to my
yoga master and get cracking."
Okafor also said he shunned long hours in the weight room and
skipped the "million squats with 400 pounds," opting instead to
work on strengthening and toning specific muscle groups used in
Soon he was surprised to step on the scales and find himself
weighing 273 pounds, 18 heavier than his roster weight.
"I stepped on the scale thinking I had lost weight," he said
with a laugh.
Yet he doesn't feel the added bulk will slow him down.
"I've noticed an improvement in just the way I feel and the way
I move," he said. "I'm just more in-tune with every aspect of my
body. I still feel flexible and able to do what I do."
While that took care of the physical preparation, Okafor
contacted Olajuwon through a friend to learn from the man who led
Okafor's hometown Houston Rockets to two NBA championships. He
spent about two weeks in August working with Olajuwon at a fitness
center in Houston, picking up what he could from the retired
All-Star nicknamed "The Dream."
Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff figures it was a perfect match,
and he's seeing some of the results of Okafor's work in training
"I think Hakeem fits Emeka more so than most of the big guys
that I've seen," Bickerstaff said. "If you look at their body
types and their quickness and their spins, I think there's kindred
Okafor's biggest challenge in camp so far has been getting into
basketball shape, from working on his timing to getting used to
running up and down the court again after spending the summer
working on individual skills.
But he sounds content to stay with his new look.
"They say if it's good weight, it'll stay on, so I don't think
it's going anywhere," Okafor said. "At first, I had some
reservations thinking, 'OK, maybe it'll slow me down.' But once I
started running full speed I thought, 'I can handle it just